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.”

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.