Cubs

Anthony Rizzo keeps building impressive legacy with Roberto Clemente Award

Anthony Rizzo keeps building impressive legacy with Roberto Clemente Award

The same competitive nature and unique leadership qualities that made Anthony Rizzo a World Series champion drove the Cubs first baseman toward winning the Roberto Clemente Award.  

Rizzo does so much publicly with this stage, and quietly behind the scenes, that it felt like a matter of time, a face of the franchise getting Major League Baseball’s prestigious award that recognizes sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions on and off the field.

The formal presentation happened Friday at Minute Maid Park, before a World Series Game 3 between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers that Rizzo would obviously rather be playing in now. But this is a well-deserved honor for someone who is remarkably comfortable around sick children, with sharing his experience as a cancer survivor and the idea of building a legacy in Chicago and South Florida.

“This is amazing,” Rizzo said. “It’s the greatest award you can win, and I will be forever appreciative of this. This will go front and center (with) anything I’ve ever done on the baseball field.”

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has raised more than $4 million since its inception in 2012. This year, the foundation made a $3.5 million commitment to Lurie Children’s Hospital, the downtown Chicago facility where Rizzo makes regular appearances, with or without the cameras.

Rizzo also recently granted $250,000 to the University of Miami Health System and the hometown cancer center where he received treatment while battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. Those physical, mental and emotional tests as a Boston Red Sox prospect shaped the superstar he would become years later in Chicago.  

“It means a lot to me when I go into a hospital room and say hello to a kid and they light up like a Christmas tree for five minutes,” Rizzo said, “escaping the reality, because they’re going through treatment. They’re battling for their lives, and I’m just grateful to be able to go in there and say hello to them and make them escape reality for a second.

“It’s not easy to go and see a lot of kids, but we really enjoy it. And the work that we do, hopefully we’re just scratching the surface.”

Clemente, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, died on New Year's Eve 1972 during a relief mission to earthquake-damaged Nicaragua, when a plane delivering relief supplies exploded shortly after takeoff and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Rizzo made a side trip to The Clemente Museum while the Cubs played in Pittsburgh this season. Previous Clemente Award winners within the last 10 years include Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Beltran, Paul Konerko and Curtis Granderson.

“Don't get me wrong, I want to be known as a great baseball player when it's all said and done,” Rizzo said, “but I also want to be known as someone who was fortunate to have a big platform and do things with it in a good way."

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: