Linked forever, All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo thriving


Linked forever, All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo thriving

CINCINNATI -- Adrian Gonzalez is hardly surprised by the sight of Anthony Rizzo in the National League clubhouse for this week’s All-Star Game.

Rizzo may only have been a Double-A first baseman when the Boston Red Sox traded him and two other minor leaguers to the San Diego Padres in exchange for the slugger in December 2010, but Gonzalez said Monday he was well aware of the youngster long before he became an All-Star first baseman. Both players have since been traded a second time, Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Rizzo to the Cubs, but they’ll forever be linked.

“Obviously we know we’re joined because of that,” Gonzalez said. “But I knew how good of a player he was when I got traded for him and always wish him the best. It’s good to see he’s realized his full potential and he’s lived up to it.”

[MORE: Cubs' Anthony Rizzo gets start at DH in All-Star Game]

Rizzo is a participant in Monday’s Home Run Derby and is also an NL All-Star for the second time, having been voted in by his peers this year. In 2014, Rizzo earned a trip to Minneapolis via the Fan Vote.

NL manager Bruce Bochy announced Monday that Rizzo -- who has a .298/.413/.542 slash line with 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 380 plate appearances -- would hit sixth and get the start as his team’s designated hitter on Tuesday. Though Rizzo’s career got out to a slow start with the Padres, he has thrived in Chicago after the Cubs sent Andrew Cashner to the Padres for him in a January 2012 deal.

Given he had to trade Gonzalez because of the Padres’ salary restrictions, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer -- then San Diego’s GM -- is happy how things have worked out. At the time, Rizzo was considered the second-best prospect in the deal behind pitcher Casey Kelly.

“You’re kind of sick to your stomach to trade a talent like that but you also knew you had to do it,” Hoyer said. “Obviously Rizzo has emerged as the star of that group and plays the same position. But I think that deal worked out for everyone.

“The Red Sox made the right deal but obviously the Padres did too because you got sort of an Adrian Gonzalez in Rizzo and now he’s made a couple of All-Star Games, he’s putting up big numbers and for any small-market team like the Padres, they got back a young Adrian Gonzalez that was affordable.”

“When you’re running a small-market team you’ve got to look for the next guy. Rizzo certainly hasn’t had Adrian’s career yet, but at this moment he’s putting up the same numbers and in a small-market like that you’ve got to look for the next one.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get an Anthony Rizzo All-Star Game jersey right here]

Gonzalez believed it because of the way Rizzo performed at Portland in the Eastern League, a stop at which he had also previously thrived even though it was deemed a pitcher’s park.

Back in 2002, Gonzalez -- a five-time All-Star who is making his first appearance in the exhibition since 2011 -- hit 17 homers and drove in 96 runs in 573 plate appearances for the Sea Dogs. Eight years later, Rizzo had 20 homers and 80 RBIs in 467 plate appearances.

Rizzo only hit .141 with one homer in 153 plate appearances with the Padres in 2011. But he has a career .270/.362/.481 slash line and 86 homers with the Cubs.

“It’s always been there,” Gonzalez said. “He’s made his adjustments and has done what he’s needed to do. The confidence has always been there and once he realizes he can do it then it’s easy for him to do it on an everyday basis. I think he’s in a spot where he’s comfortable and he’s really enjoying it.”

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.