Heyward reportedly chooses division-rival Cubs

Heyward reportedly chooses division-rival Cubs

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have been stung by their division rivals yet again, as St. Louis' primary offseason target, Jason Heyward, has reportedly agreed to sign with Chicago, making the Cubs only more formidable in a top-heavy National League Central.

The Cardinals acquired Heyward in November 2014, hopeful that having him play a season in St. Louis would sell the right fielder on a long-term fit there. It was a short-term gamble -- the Cards parted with 10 years of control over young pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins -- for the chance at a long-term payoff.

It didn't work.

While Heyward enjoyed his year with the Cardinals, he reportedly found Chicago's long-term offer more appealing. The Chicago Sun-Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch were among the first to report Heyward's final decision.

Hot Stove Tracker

And that decision is a jolt to the Cardinals, who had not only made re-signing Heyward their top offseason priority, but are also threatened by a potential power shift in the NL Central. The Cubs, who knocked the Cardinals out of the postseason in October, also signed former Cards starter John Lackey earlier this offseason.

The Cardinals made an aggressive pitch to Heyward and were willing to make him the highest-paid player in franchise history. This is the second time this offseason, however, that such an overture was trumped. Last month, the Cards watched David Price turn down their offer to sign for more with the Red Sox.

At 26 years old, Heyward entered free agency in a unique position. His age made him especially attractive for the Cardinals, and his unique skill set would have fit their need.

With Heyward off the board, St. Louis will now have to pivot its offseason pursuits. The club has other right-field options in Stephen Piscotty and Brandon Moss, but as a team looking to upgrade offensively, it is expected to pursue other external options as well.

Alex Gordon, Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes are among the free-agent outfielders still available. If the Cardinals chose to shuffle players around and add a first baseman, Chris Davis may pique their interest. With left fielder Matt Holliday entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, St. Louis is looking to add another piece to its long-term core.

Heyward, a three-time NL Gold Glove Award winner, made 136 starts in right field last season but also showed an ability to cover center when needed. He led all NL outfielders with 24 Defensive Runs Saved, according to Baseball Reference, and tallied nine assists.

And despite a slow start, Heyward posted one of the team's best offensive years. He hit .293/.359/.439 with a 116 OPS +, while leading the team with 23 stolen bases and hitting 33 doubles, 13 homers and 60 RBIs. From May 27 to the end of the season, Heyward topped the Cardinals with a .317 average and a .388 on-base percentage.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.