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jason heyward cardinalsAlthough it shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, it is definitely noteworthy: Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal report that the Jason Heyward talks are “progressing,” and the Cubs and Cardinals are among the finalists for his services. Last night we heard that the Cubs were staying in “close” contact with Heyward’s reps.

Your big caveat there is that there are “other” teams involved, though they aren’t named explicitly in the report. I suspect the reason the Cubs and Cardinals show up by name is because they’ve been a little less opaque about their plans with respect to Heyward, so it was always a pretty fair guess that they’d be among the finalists.

Of course, with only those two teams mentioned, you always have to wonder: are either of them involved primarily to drive up the bidding on the other? Of the two, you’ve got to believe the Cardinals’ interest is sincere given everything we heard about how much they liked him this year, and how their outfield could use him especially after next year when Matt Holliday departs.

So, are the Cubs just staying involved to bid the Cardinals up?*

Bruce Levine was on The Score this morning with Mully and Hanley suggesting that very thing (and saying that, instead, the Cubs’ top target in the outfield has always been Alex Gordon), and Buster Olney hinted at the same yesterday. The theory is out there.

I can’t say I know for sure the level of the Cubs’ sincerity in their pursuit of Heyward, but my sense of everything before me – both out there in reports and behind the scenes – is that the Cubs are legitimately interested in landing Heyward. This is not a pure smoke screen. Might they still come up short? Of course. Might their involvement – and coming up short – drive up the price for the eventual winner? Sure. But I get the sense that doing so would be incidental to the Cubs’ pursuit, rather than the goal, itself.

Of course, I have to admit: I could be getting that sense precisely because the Cubs are doing a good job of appearing to be involved and, thus, driving up the price.

If talks are indeed progressing, as Morosi and Rosenthal indicate, hopefully we’ll start hearing some numbers soon. Last night, I tried to surmise just how much Heyward will cost, and it’s a pretty difficult exercise.

*(Given that the Cubs’ final reported offer to David Price came in just behind the Cardinals, you have to wonder a little bit on that one, too. Of course, the Red Sox wound up coming in way over the top, but what if they hadn’t?)

UPDATE: I caught this just after I published the above:

Sometimes that “decision today” stuff means, as Baggarly hints, a decision has already been made, and the announcement is simply coming today (which we saw with Ben Zobrist). The main takeaway for me, though, is that the Giants could be out. That would leave the Cubs, Cardinals, probably Angels, and probably a surprise team flush with TV cash.

UPDATE 2: An article out of St. Louis offering that side’s perspective, and a source tells Derrick Goold that the Cubs’ interest is sincere, and not solely about driving up the price on the Cardinals.

UPDATE 3: It does sound like there’s a lot of buzz today, specifically, about Heyward and the outfield market in general:

Right now, you have to figure the big three on Heyward are the Cubs, Cardinals, and Angels. It still feels like some other team with money is going to jump in, though. Don’t forget: publicly, folks didn’t hear about how seriously the Cubs were involved on Zobrist until after he’d actually already signed.

UPDATE 4: Jesse Rogers was just on ESPN1000 saying as strongly as he could that he believes this is not at all about bidding up the Cardinals. He strongly believes the Cubs really, truly want Heyward. He added further that he believes the Cubs are more likely to get him than the Cardinals, because it’s a better fit.

Good on Rogers for going out on a limb there, because I would almost always take “the field” in a bet like this. We’ll see.

Rogers also added that his sense is still that the plan is to sign Heyward and still trade Jorge Soler, to open up right field for Heyward. That doesn’t mean they absolutely will trade him, but that seems to be the plan, according to Rogers. Then, the Cubs would go after a glove-first guy in center field.

UPDATE 5: Whatever happens, I should add that it’s going to be fascinating to see the final deal for Heyward. Not just the money, but how it’s structured, how many opt-outs he gets – you can guarantee he’ll get at least one – whether he gets a no-trade clause, whether there are any options, etc. It’s gonna be a super creative deal, I think.

UPDATE 6: Well, as expected, the Angels are in:

I get nervous seeing the Angels involved, because they are a competitive, financially-able team headed up by a very unpredictable owner. In years past, when Arte Moreno has wanted someone, the Angels go nuts and get the guy. I’d argue that’s been a mistake – Hamilton, Pujols, Wilson, for recent examples – but it won’t stop them from doing it again if they decide they’ve just got to have Jason Heyward. I didn’t expect either of the Cubs or Cardinals to go way over the top in a bid for Heyward, but the Angels might.

UPDATE 7: AT LAST! A rumored asking price:

Can I be honest with you? As far as asking prices go, I think that’s perfectly reasonable. I’m not saying he will or should get it, but there’s a case to be made that he should have started by asking for 10 years and $250 million. Eight or nine years and $192 to $216 million as an ask is just not crazy in this market for a 26-year-old free agent who plays elite defense, consistently provides great plate appearances and OBP, even if not a ton of power. Maybe I’ve become jaded by the money in the game, but I can see value in that contract.

UPDATE 8: I love me a good old fashioned conflicting report:

I have no reason to doubt Gonzalez’s report, though it’s surprising to hear that the Angels aren’t in on ANY of those big outfield bats.

UPDATE 9: I really don’t think there’s any connection here, but I’ll at least share the coincidence – meanwhile, the Cardinals just re-signed Jonathan Broxton to a two-year deal, and the Angels are trading for Yunel Escobar. The latter move I could conceive of a connection (picking up a cost-effective infielder to save a little money for Heyward), but I still doubt it.

UPDATE 10: Rogers was on ESPN Radio again this afternoon, and, although he stuck to his guns about the Cubs being very serious about wanting Heyward, he wasn’t prepared to call them the favorite to land him.

UPDATE 11: Jon Heyman reveals the Mystery Team:

The Nationals have yet to make a major commitment this offseason, have a bunch of free agents leaving, and could certainly use Heyward in the outfield. Yikes. That’s a fit right there. They also have certain tax advantages that they utilized when signing Max Scherzer last year. Double yikes.

UPDATE 12: Another mystery team? And the price is up there:

So, do I read the implication there as the Cubs not being the high bidder? Either now, or later? That is to say, it seems like Heyman is revealing his belief that, whatever the number of the high offer right now, he doesn’t think it’s the Cubs.

UPDATE 13: Your first local report out of Washington is mixed:

UPDATE 14: Jim Bowden has an up-and-down track record on these things, but his connections in Washington would seem to be pretty legit. So I’m listening when he says this:

You could read that two ways. First, there’s the obvious way, that the Nationals are bidding huge for Heyward and they might get him. But there’s also a more subtle reading: if the Nationals have to be categorized as a “serious threat” to the Cubs and Cardinals, doesn’t that mean, by definition, that they are still slightly more favored than the Nationals?

Then again, I’ve been following this since this morning, and I’m pretty just cracking up a little bit.

UPDATE 15: Jon Morosi goes into the three presumptive finalists (though I’m still not ruling out another pop-up team (or two (or ten!))), in a column on today’s activity. Not much new in there, but you’re obsessed enough to follow along this far. I figured you’d still want to see it. EDIT: You know, I actually did omit one interesting news bit in there – Morosi and Ken Rosenthal are hearing that a decision could come in the next several days.

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