Q&A: Heyward says Braves never made long-term proposal

The Braves traded Jason Heyward to the Cardinals on Monday, a move that drew plenty of criticism from fans of the team and its popular Gold Glove right fielder. Heyward, a Georgia native, said there weren’t any long-term contract extensions with the Braves despite his letting them know during a brief discussion after the 2012 season that he hoped to play for Atlanta for many years to come. He said the Braves never brought the subject up again with him or his agent.

Here’s a transcript of Heyward’s interview with a few Atlanta reporters Monday afternoon, about four hours after the trade was announced.

Q. What’s been your reaction to the trade, was this something you were expecting at all?

A. I didn’t know what to expect going into the offseason, but as time went and I didn’t ever see anybody reach out to me as far as wanting to discuss an extension to be here longer than next year, I kind of got (the impression) that I would get traded.

Q. John Hart (Braves president of baseball operations) has said that since he came to the organization last year he never got any indication other than you would go to free agency, not that a long-term contract extension was something that could be worked out. What’s your view of that?

A. To be honest, the Braves front office are the ones that would have to come to me about a deal, about the extension, about me being here longer than 2015, for that to actually happen. And that never took place last offseason. I threw the two-year deal out on the table because I didn’t want to go through the arbitration process anymore. I wanted to go play baseball and I didn’t want to come back after another offseason and go OK, we’re once again talking about numbers and performance and this and that (for arbitration). I just wanted to go play. I wanted our next conversation to be about me possibly being in Atlanta for a long time. And that conversation never came about. So I took it as, that’s not what they wanted to happen.

Q. Can you see a case where your value on the market next offseason might make you one of the top free agents available, and where it might not have made sense for either side to talk about a deal at this point, after your injury-shortened 2012 season and now one year away from free agency?

A. Well, honestly, if anything it would have been (beneficial) for my side to not talk about it, but for me as a player and as a person I had made it clear that I wanted to be here for longer than 2015. But again, we never had the conversation, so…. They didn’t see fit to have those sit-down talks or discussions about me being here. I don’t necessarily know what they were thinking, but now I see today that I’m traded to the Cardinals, so….

We had brief discussions after the 2012 season. I understand that was with a different GM (recently fired Frank Wren), but we had brief discussions. Didn’t last very long. I mean, we’re talking about minutes, not hours or days or weeks. And at that time, we did mention and made them aware as well that I would like to be a Brave for a long time. And that wasn’t on their agenda. And we hadn’t revisited those talks since then, so as far as you asking me if I feel like it wasn’t a good time for me to sign – I know for me, the fact that I made them aware that I wanted to stay in Atlanta…

We’re not going to talk numbers today, but I feel like I gave them an opportunity to come to me with anything, but that situation never occurred, so this is where we are today.

Q. What’s your message to Braves fans?

A. I’m overwhelmed by it all right now, because the fans have been awesome to me. They’re disappointed when you don’t do well, yes, but at the same time they’re right there with you in your best moments and they’ve been great for me to feed off of and give back to the city. I grew up in Georgia watching the Braves play. I got the opportunity to be on the other side from a player’s perspective and play for the great Bobby Cox, play with the great Chipper Jones and other players that came through here. And the fans have been awesome to me, so I just want to thank them for their support in my time here. I can’t think them enough for it. And thank you for recognizing my love and passion for this game of baseball, and thank you for recognizing that I went out there every day and gave it 100 percent for them. Again, as far as the situation goes as far as me being here long-term or not, I feel like the fans had more discussions with me than the front office. And that’s not a shot, that’s just the way it’s been, and that’s how much I appreciate the fans. So I want to thank them for that and thank them for their support in the future as well.

Q. Could it be a blessing in disguise, with Braves in transition and you going to a Cardinals team that’s always contending?

A. Well, granted, at 25 years old, coming into this game at 20 years old, as long as you can stay healthy you’re already set up to make some type of money as a free agent or get into a long term deal somewhere. So for me, I’ve been very fortunate to start off at 20 years old, and at 25 here I am getting traded to a contender – every year, you can book the Cardinals for that. You can book the fact that their mentality is, ‘Hey, we would like to win a championship this year.’ That’s their mindset, and they go about it with such passion that any baseball fan can appreciate. They have a great fan base, they’ve got players on their roster that are leaders, guys that are experience, guys that are polished, some that are superstars for their whole careers, some that have been to the bottom and to the top. So absolutely, I’ve got to say this is a blessing for me to be wanted and for someone to have interest in me in an organization such as the St. Louis Cardinals.

Q. You said you’ve gone to the Braves a few times to let them know you were interested in staying long term. Did they basically say, we’ll get back to you, or was there even any reaction?

A. No, in 2012 when we had the discussion – and I mean brief, it was a 10-minute conversation between my representatives and the Braves – we let them know that I wanted to be here a long time. And the conversation was basically shut down then. And never revisited. So again, the two-year deal (in February 2014) came from me as far as not wanting to worry about that, not wanting to worry about money and performance and whatnot. I wanted to go play baseball.

Q. Is it hard to believe that five years ago you were catching that ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron on opening day, and now you’re no longer a Brave?

A. You don’t know what to expect out of life, and over the last years my faith has allowed me to see that you’ve got to just be ready for what’s next, versus trying to plan it out or versus trying to dictate what’s going to happen. I could have told you a million different scenarios of how my career was going to play out before I was ever a major leaguer, and I still wouldn’t have probably given you this exact scenario. So am I surprised? Kind of, yes. But at the same time, you know anything can happen. Because there’s opportunities for anything as far as the business side to come in. You never know what to expect on that aspect. I just know I enjoy playing the game. I enjoyed a lot of the people that I got to come across here in the Braves organization, to work with on a daily basis. I appreciate them. I appreciate their support.

Q. Are you still in shock? In terms of, did part of you think at one point that you might be a Brave for your whole career?

A. For me, for the longest time, even when I came in the minor league organization, I felt it might be very possible for me to be in Atlanta for my whole career. But when it comes down to it, after dealing with the front office in 2012 or just in general, they kind of made my decision for me as far as whether I was going to be here long term or not. As you know, both sides have to be willing to talk about that and make it happen, and it felt like my side was open to the discussion and the other was not. That’s all I can say about that.

Q. On reaction of friend Freddie Freeman, have you talked to him at all?

A. I’m not going to speak for Freddie or anyone else for that matter. But we did have a long conversation. I sent him a text to let him know what happened, and he called me and of course, no one’s going to beat around the bush – no one’s going to be surpised by hearing the fact that he wasn’t happy about it. But he was happy for me, for me going to a new situation with a great organization. As we all know, as far as guys who’ve played against the Cardinals over the years. After that, we said we’d talk later. But it was understood, with he and I both, that we’re not excited about the fact that we won’t play together any longer, or at least for right now. He was happy for me, but sad at the same time.

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