When St. Louis acquired Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for starter Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins, the Cardinals filled a hole in right field left by the death of Oscar Taveras—for at least 2015. Heyward is entering his sixth season as a big-leaguer and is consequently only under contract through the coming season. Shortly after the trade was finalized, Craig opined that the Cardinals should rush to sign Heyward to an extension. Aaron made a bet with the folks at our SBN sister site Brew Crew Ball that Heyward and the Cardinals would agree to an extension before opening day. I've written that the trade should not be judged on whether the Cardinals sign Heyward to man right field beyond 2015.
In the weeks and months after the trade, Heyward did not conduct any interviews with the St. Louis media. Instead, Heyward communicated via Twitter. If you've followed Lil' Scooter's Hunt & Peck news and notes posts, you're well aware of this. Outside of 140-character tweets, what Cardinals fans knew of Heyward came from what they had gleaned during his time as a Brave.
Heyward made his Cardinals debut, so to speak, at last weekend's Winter Warm-Up. It was there that Heyward held his first press availability as a Cardinal. His comments to the press have given us an idea of the soon-to-be-free-agent's mindset regarding a potential contract extension. From Derrick Goold's article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
He hoped to have a reason to discuss one with the Cardinals -- before the season or during the season, just at some point, if both sides have interest.
"As this point, I don't," Heyward said when asked if he would have a reason to stop talking about his contract when the season started. "They asked me to be here and I was traded into this situation, and it's a good situation. For me, I just feel like I need to show up and do my job, kind of follow their lead with certain things. Me, I'm going to show up every day and look to play the game the right way and have fun doing it. After that, we'll see what happens. It's kind of a unique situation because this is my last year before free agency."
During Monday's installment of his weekly Chat To Be Named Later on stltoday.com, Goold provided further insight into Heyward's thinking:
"Consistency as far as what the goal is. At the end of each season, why do you show up for work every day? The mindset behind, 'Are we a playoff team? Do we want to be a playoff team? Are we going to look to rebuild or are we going to stay in the hunt each year.' Those are things I feel like players want to see out of an organization. I feel like St. Louis has been very fortunate to have good ownership, a good GM, and the fans are able to feed off that because they know what to expect out of their players and out of their coaches. That's a good mindset to have. It's good to have that connect when everyone's involved and they all know at the end of the year they're rooting for one goal."
If Heyward were set on testing the waters of free agency, it would have been very easy for him to close the door on an in-season extension. Heck, we've seen it before with Albert Pujols. It seems likely the impetus for asking Heyward whether he would impose a deadline on extension talks was Pujols doing so in the spring of 2011. Obviously, the Cardinals and the future Hall-of-Famer were unable to come to terms on an extension before the spring deadline, Pujols played 2011 as a Cardinal, the club won the World Series, and then the Angels swooped in and outbid the Cardinals for Pujols's services for the next 20 years (half as a player; half under a personal service contract that covers a decade of Pujols's post-playing days).
Heyward is not approaching his impending free agency like Pujols did in the 2011. It doesn't seem like Heyward values Respect Units so much as a winning situation, one in which he is comfortable with the city and organization. The way Heyward talks ("...the right way..."!) and plays, he seems like an excellent long-term fit for the Cardinals. Hopefully, as the Cardinals and Heyward get to know one another better, they reach this conclusion. I wouldn't mind seeing Heyward in the birds on the bat for more than a year.