Cubs

What another strong showing in the MVP voting means for Cubs and Anthony Rizzo’s contract

What another strong showing in the MVP voting means for Cubs and Anthony Rizzo’s contract

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.

[SHOP: Buy an Anthony Rizzo jersey]

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.”

State of the Cubs: Left field

State of the Cubs: Left field

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the eighth installment on left field.

Is this the year Kyle Schwarber *truly* breaks out and finally silences all of the haters?

That's the narrative surrounding the left-handed slugger, but in reality, 2018 probably should've been enough to silence Schwarber's haters.

He finished with 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs), nearly reaching the mark (3.4 fWAR) he put up in his entire MLB career prior to 2018. A lot of that was due to increased defensive ratings across the board — the culmination of shedding a bunch of weight last winter and continuing to develop and learn the outfield position in the big leagues.

But Schwarber also took some major strides at the plate, even with some of the same questions about power that faced every Cubs hitter last year.

Consider this — the entire list of qualified MLB hitters who had a higher walk percentage (15.3 percent) AND isolated power (.229) than Schwarber in 2018:

Mike Trout
Bryce Harper

That's it. That's the complete list.

Of course, Schwarber is not without his warts as a player. His defense still isn't "good" even when you take into account the weapon his throwing arm has become. He struggles mightily against left-handed pitching, posting a .654 OPS and hitting only 1 of his 26 dingers off southpaws last year. 

Maybe more than anything, Schwarber has to find a way to produce runs when he's not hitting the ball out onto Sheffield Ave. Over the last two seasons, Schwarber has driven in just 120 runs in 996 plate appearances despite 56 homers. FanGraphs had an interesting article last September shining a light on Schwarber's historically poor performance in the clutch in 2018.

Schwarber and the Cubs are insistent the "clutch" performance last year was just randomness. After all, this is the guy who tied the overall franchise record for postseason homers in one October (2015) and returned in epic fashion for the 2016 World Series.

If the Cubs are going to get where they want to go in 2019 and fix an offense that "broke" down the stretch, they're going to need a big performance from their left fielder.

Depth chart

1. Kyle Schwarber
2. Ian Happ
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Kris Bryant
5. Daniel Descalso
6. David Bote
7. Mark Zagunis
8. Johnn Field

Left field is Schwarber's for the indefinite future. There's a reason the Cubs haven't traded him yet despite all the rumors surrounding America's Large Adult Son. Theo Epstein's front office clearly hasn't received a package of players or prospects they deem worth the price of getting rid of Schwarber, who they still feel has another level to attain on the field and serves as an important presence in the clubhouse with his work ethic and attitude.

However, the Cubs still may platoon Schwarber in left field, subbing him out against tough lefties (or maybe most lefties if he doesn't start hitting for more power off southpaws). He also dealt with a disc issue in his back that sapped much of the final month of the season, but that's not expected to continue into 2019.

When it's not Schwarber in left, the Cubs will probably turn to Happ first, as he's looking more and more like a full-time outfielder as time goes on. Zobrist and Bryant will also see some time out in left, especially if Bote is able to carry over the defensive skills he flashed in limited time last year.

Descalso has some experience in left, but made just three starts there last year for the Diamondbacks. Bote has played outfield in the minors and Zagunis and Field represent depth in Triple-A if disaster strikes the Cubs outfield.

What's next?

That depends on Schwarber. Assuming he can stay healthy, he needs to continue along the path he started last season making significant strides as a hitter and defender.

Even if he's never able to hit lefties well, Schwarber still needs to find a way to avoid the quiet stretches where he disappears for a couple series in a row. Other teams still fear him as a hitter, but not on an everyday basis.

As the Cubs lineup works to remake its image, a thriving Schwarber hitting 4th or 5th and cleaning up the likes of Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez on base in front of him would be a huge step in the right direction.

The bottom line

The Cubs have enough depth if Schwarber takes a step backward or injury hits. Unless there's a surprise Bryce Harper signing, the Cubs feel very good about their outfield depth heading into spring training.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B
State of the Cubs: SS

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

Anthony Herron, Scott King and Jason Goch join Kap on Tuesday's SportsTalk Live panel.

0:00 - Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens remain out. Will they get in next year? Do they deserve to get in at all?

12:00 - Yadier Molina is still mad that Kris Bryant called St. Louis "boring." Why can't The Best Fans in Baseball let it go?

15:00 - Yu Darvish posts a throwing video on Instagram. Who's excited?

16:30 - Saints fans are suing the NFL. But will they have to settle for the league changing its instant replay guidelines or is that too much video review?

22:30 - Patrick Mahomes watches from the bench as Tom Brady drives down the field in overtime. Does the league need to adopt college style OT?

29:00 - The Bears get two more players in the Pro Bowl pushing their total to 8. Is making the Pro Bowl still a big deal?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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