Heaton was the pearl of a Cleveland farm system that produced little in the early 1980s. He went 11-7 as a rookie in 1983, but was having his third straight losing season when traded to Minnesota for John Butcher in 1986. The move proved folly for Cleveland that winter when they released Butcher, and the Twins sent Heaton to Montreal in a deal for Jeff Reardon. Heaton was 10-4 at the 1987 All-Star break, then skidded to finish 13-10. Reardon’s 31 saves helped the Twins to the World Championship.
After a 3-10 season for the Expos in 1988, Heaton moved on to Pittsburgh and rebounded with three solid seasons for the Pirates. His 6-7 effort as a swingman in 1989 masked a fine 3.05 ERA, and his pitching the following year earned him a spot on the NL All-Star squad. Shunted to full-time bullpen duty in 1991 for the first time in his career, Heaton was less effective. He never started another game, finishing up with two seasons split between Kansas City, Milwaukee, and the New York Yankees.