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Levine: Cubs, Cardinals In A Tug Of War Over Jason Heyward

By Bruce Levine--

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CBS) -- The battles of the Cubs and Cardinals have jumped from a 120-year on-field rivalry to an offseason tug of war for the best players in the open market. Most notably, free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward is the object of both clubs' desires as he seeks a deal up to 10 years in length.

The Cardinals are in a defensive  position with Heyward. St. Louis could possibly watch him leave its organization and join the youthful mix of star position players in Chicago that has been assembled by executives Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod. The Cubs have already signed former Cardinals right-hander John Lackey, a veteran workhorse who posted 218 innings last season and who the Cubs can now be confident in every fifth day.

Losing Heyward -- a 26-year-old who could be on the brink of stardom -- would be a tough for the Cardinals and their fan base to swallow. After winning 97 games in a breakout 2015, the Cubs appear to be going for the jugular with their offseason plan in motion. Signing Lackey and super utilityman Ben Zobrist gives the Cubs a veteran veneer to go with the young stars in the system. Heyward could play center field for the Cubs in 2016 before transitioning to a corner outfield spot later in his career. The Angels have been in contact with Heyward as well, according to reports.

If the Cubs don't sign Heyward, they can go back to their original plan of making an offer to free-agent outfielder Alex Gordon. In a potential move to Chicago, Gordon would be a right fielder after years of manning left field for Kansas City.

At 31, Gordon is five years older than Heyward, and the two possess similar defensive skill sets with quality range and great arms. Gordon's asking price and market value will be set by the Heyward signing. Originally, the Giants and Cubs were considered one-two for Gordon's services, but the Orioles and Angels will be in the mix too with offers for Gordon if Heyward inks a deal first.

A more low-profile free-agent outfielder is Denard Span, who's still rehabbing a leg injury. A decision from him could come in January, after the market settles.

For the Cubs, the Jorge Soler market is as fluid as ever. He appears to be the player who can bring back more bullpen or starting pitching help. Keep in mind, the Cubs want better defense in center field and right field to help augment their pitching staff. The Cubs got away with below-average outfield defense in 2015, and the team's management group doesn't expect that good fortune to continue.

The Cubs' baseball department has more money from the business side to spend after a 13 percent ticket price hike on the way, money earned from various revenue streams, new advertising deals and playoff cash.

"We have had a lot of discussions with our business side, and they have been really wonderfully cooperative," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "They are trying their hardest to come up with enough resources for us. We sat down with them after the GM meetings (in November). Suffice to say, they have been really cooperative. You always have a budget number, but that number is always going to change. We always say to them, 'It can't go down.' They always let us know when they have additional dollars."

The Cubs bid $161 million over seven years for left-hander David Price before he signed with the Red Sox, sources said, so that type of money is available.

All of this indicates that if it takes a 10-year deal to sign this offseason's top position player, the Cubs won't be scared away from Heyward. They'll be right there.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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