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Cardinals, Heyward begin season of opportunity



Now that Jason Heyward is a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, he said he is open to remaining a Cardinal.

“For me, I hope I love it so much I won’t have to leave,” Heyward said. “That’s the way you want to love your job. I love the game of baseball. For me, I’m always going to go out there and give 110 percent. I feel like if I love it that much, it’s a good fit.”

Atlanta decided Heyward, 25, was no longer a good fit for the Braves. They traded the outfielder, who is in the last year of a two-year contract in 2015, and is due to make $7.8 million this season.

The Braves dealt the former first-round pick as insurance – they wanted to be sure to get something in return in case Heyward became a free agent.

The timing was right. St. Louis needed someone to play in right field after top prospect Oscar Taveras was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic shortly after the season ended. The Cardinals traded pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for Heyward and, in November, reliever Jordan Walden.

“We did feel after the events of this offseason we had to do something different; that we had to look at a way to add an impact player to our club,” General Manager John Mozeliak said. “This deal is definitely focused on the short term in 2015, but as we go forward we’ll try to find a way to make Heyward’s experience here in St. Louis something that he wants to be a part of for a long period of time.”

Mozeliak said the organization is not giving up on young outfielders Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty. In fact, he said he still has high hopes for both players. But right now, Heyward in right field is what makes sense for the ballclub.

The Cardinals are accustomed to making deep October runs, with 11 postseason appearances in the last 15 years. Adding Heyward may help ensure that playing in October continues again this fall.

Heyward hit .271 last season with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs. He led off for most of last season but also batted fifth. He is regarded as one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball and picked up his second Gold Glove in 2014.

St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said he likes what Heyward brings to the Cardinals.

“I see him as a veteran player,” Matheny said. “He’s accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time.”

Power and speed are two vital elements in Heyward’s arsenal. Both of those were missing in action for the majority of 2014 for the Cardinals.

Heyward stole 20 bases for Atlanta last year. That figure tied him with Kolten Wong for the Cardinals’ team high in stolen bases. Heyward’s 27 homers in 2012 were six more than any Cardinal hit in 2014.

With Matt Carpenter appearing to hold a firm grasp on the Cardinals’ leadoff role, the question becomes where Heyward will hit.

“Whatever I’m asked to do, wherever I’m going to be asked to hit, that’s just going to be whatever I settle into,” Heyward said. “Consistency in that spot, in those situations, is what’s going to bring the best out of someone. That’s all I’m looking forward to.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity here in this lineup with this team and this manager. I know I can bring a lot of things to the table: run the bases, steal some bases, draw walks when I need to, play some defense – I have fun doing that.”

Heyward’s first look at St. Louis was a good one. He got his introduction to St. Louis and its fans at an event back in January that included manager Mike Matheny, principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr., and team president Bill DeWitt III at Ballpark Village. He brought his parents, Eugene and Laura, with him to St. Louis that weekend. It was important to him, he said, that they accompany him.

“You don’t know how long this is going to last, baseball,” Heyward said. “This is a dream they helped me realize and made a lot of sacrifices for. They wanted to share that moment with me, a new experience and take a good step going forward.”

That step forward may help the Cardinals reach the postseason yet again. Matheny is counting on it.

“He’s got a presence, there’s no question about it,” Matheny said. “He’s been a guy in a short amount of time that’s made a big splash.”

Now, it’s time for Heyward to make a splash in St. Louis. If all goes well he may become a long-term answer rather than a one-year rental.

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