Anthony Rizzo understood he handed over an object worth millions of dollars when he gave Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts the Game 7 ball from the last out of the World Series during that Grant Park rally two weeks ago. That type of gesture has made Rizzo a face of the franchise and one of the game’s most camera-friendly personalities.
But beyond that halo effect – and all the marketing opportunities from being a leader of the iconic team that finally ended the 108-year drought – Rizzo will get a well-deserved bonus after his second top-five finish in the National League MVP voting triggered all the escalators in his contract.
Rizzo’s 2019 salary will increase from $11 million to $12 million, according to two sources familiar with the deal, with the club options for 2020 and 2021 now worth $16.5 million instead of $14.5 million.
During a run that has seen the Cubs win 200 regular-season games, Rizzo has finished fourth in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote for two straight years, welcoming Kris Bryant into the clubhouse and helping a unanimous Rookie of the Year transform into an MVP.
“If it wasn’t for Anthony and his protection and guidance, I wouldn’t have won this award,” Bryant said Thursday night on a BBWAA conference call. “He texted me, and I said the same thing to him: ‘If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.’”
It’s easy to forget now, because Rizzo is 27 and a three-time All-Star who won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger after generating 32 homers, 109 RBI and a .928 OPS this year. But both sides had to take risks and make compromises when Theo Epstein’s front office and Rizzo’s camp agreed to a seven-year, $41 million deal in May 2013.
Remember, Dale Sveum, the manager at the time, had publicly threatened to send Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro to Triple-A Iowa only a few weeks earlier. Even if the Cubs don’t really admit it now, there were legitimate questions about Rizzo’s maturity and focus, the way it is with many young players. Rizzo had also bombed during his big-league debut with the San Diego Padres in 2011, hitting .141 with one homer and 46 strikeouts in 49 games.
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Rizzo had already been traded twice, from the Boston Red Sox to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, and then flipped again to Chicago for Andrew Cashner. Rizzo trusted Cubs executives Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, who had known him as a Red Sox prospect and watched him come back from a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis in 2008.
On some level, that cancer scare had to influence Rizzo’s thinking. The Cubs could give Rizzo peace of mind, long-term security, a national brand and the big-market platform for his charitable foundation.
Rizzo – who’s represented by Sports One Athlete Management – also wanted to beat the $32 million the Arizona Diamondbacks guaranteed Paul Goldschmidt. But before the 2014 season started, the Atlanta Braves reset the market for first basemen by giving Freddie Freeman an eight-year, $135 million extension.
If Rizzo finishes first or second in the MVP voting during any year of the contract – and is subsequently traded – then the 2021 club option is void. But those club options for 2020 and 2021 still look like no-brainers, as Sveum might say, which would boost the total value of Rizzo’s deal toward $73 million, which does not include his extensive off-the-field portfolio.
If the ’85 Bears can still command so much attention in this city, then this Cubs team should be able to draw from a deep reservoir of endorsement opportunities and potential partnerships.
By manipulating Bryant’s service time last year, the Cubs ensured “Bryzzo Souvenir Co.” would remain under club control as a huge Wrigley Field attraction through the 2021 season.
“It says a lot about our team, being so young and being able to win a World Series this year,” Bryant said. “Knowing that we’re going to have this core together for a handful of years, there’s a lot of opportunity in front of us. And it’s up to us to make the most of it.”