Jason Heyward: Cubs' youth, potential trumped money in free agency

CHICAGO -- Declaring he turned down more money elsewhere, new Chicago Cubs center fielder Jason Heyward said joining a young, competitive team was the deciding factor in signing an eight-year contract with the Cubs.

"Knowing the core is young and those guys are going to be around for a while is very exciting," Heyward said in an afternoon news conference on Tuesday. "I don't want to take the highest dollar amount when my gut is telling me to go somewhere else.

"Being 26 years old and knowing that my contract would put me in any clubhouse for longer than most people there, you have to look at age, how fast the team is changing and how soon those changes will come about."

Heyward was referring to his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, who have several aging players. Not so with the Cubs, who made it to the National League Championship Series in 2015 with a core of youngsters led by first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who's just a day older than Heyward.

"It was a rare opportunity through free agency to further our identity, to enhance our core, to get younger through free agency, which is hard to do, and to find someone we believe is such a well-rounded player and person," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.

Heyward has a unique contract that allows him to opt out after the third year and again after the fourth, according to a source familiar with the deal. He'll be paid $15 million in the first year of the contract, then between $20 million and $22 million per year for the next seven. He also gets a $20 million deferred signing bonus.

"We're fortunate to have a developing identity that's based around some young players," Epstein said. "That's what made it such a great fit for Jason."

Despite the ability to opt out, Heyward emphasized he wanted to "grow" with a young team and felt the Cardinals might not afford him that opportunity. He referenced Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright as players who might not be around through Heyward's peak years.

"The St. Louis Cardinals are always going to be a great organization, and I don't think anyone would ever be surprised if they win a World Series any year," Heyward said. "[But] if I were to look up in three years and saw a completely different team, that would be kind of different for me."

Heyward claimed the "icing on the cake" in coming to Chicago is playing for Joe Maddon, the reigning National League Manager of the Year, who Cubs executives say often talked about Heyward after playing the Cardinals this past season.

"He was in the middle of everything," general manager Jed Hoyer recalled Maddon saying.

Heyward added: "What jumped out at me the most is the way Joe ran a young team."

Heyward has a career slash line of .311/.376/.522/.898 at Wrigley Field and is slated to play center field after having won three Gold Gloves in right. Jorge Soler is the starting right fielder.

Said Heyward: "I'm going to have a blast playing some center field if that's what I end up playing every day."