Opening Day 2021 is just days away and while the Chicago Cubs have had a very strong spring on the field, the contractual status of their three biggest stars who are in the final year of team control remains as murky as ever.
Javy Báez, who was deep into talks with the Cubs on an extension when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the sports world down a year ago, still remains unsigned. Kris Bryant is not expected to agree to a deal at this point, although he has spoken often about wanting to stay with the Cubs.
That leaves Anthony Rizzo, who is the face of the franchise on and off of the playing field. Rizzo is a multi-time Gold Glove winner, has won a World Series and is one of the most consistent left-handed hitters in all of baseball. He has also spoken publicly about wanting to remain a Cub for the rest of his career.
In a recent chat with NBC Sports Chicago’s Gordon Wittenmyer, Rizzo spoke of his drive to be as consistent as he can be year after year.
“Anyone in this league can have one good year, two good years,” Rizzo said. “It’s accumulating the years, throwing up the Jon Lester stats every year: 30-plus starts for however many years [in a row].
“That’s the body of work to where, when I’m done with my career, I can look back and say I’ve left no stone unturned. I did everything I can and got the max potential I had out of what I was gifted with.”
Rizzo has also made it clear to the Cubs front office that he is not looking to fight for every last dollar in a potential extension. But he also wants to be compensated fairly. His numbers are among the best in the sport.
Over the past seven seasons, he is one of the best first basemen in baseball. Add in his off the field contributions to the franchise and to the Chicago area, and he has incredible value to the organization.
In addition, one would think that Rizzo would be a natural fit as a team ambassador whenever his playing career is over. So, any extension should be at least five years long and perhaps as long as seven so that he can transition from his playing days to a front facing role representing the Cubs in a multitude of ways.
When he spoke with the media in early March, he made it clear he does not want to be negotiating a contract when the season starts.
“Right now, this next two and a half weeks is pretty much the only time that is exclusive to the Cubs from a bargaining standpoint,” Rizzo said.
“I’ve obviously expressed it before. I love Chicago. I love the fans. I love the city. I’m happy here. It’s just about doing what’s right and what makes sense.”
Rizzo said as recently as last year when he approached the club about an extension: “It made a lot of sense to try to get it done and not try to break their bank and also be fair.”
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $130 million extension with the Cardinals two years ago at the same age Rizzo is now. Former Reds MVP Joey Votto, 37, is playing on a 10-year, $225 million extension he signed at 30.
Recently, Rizzo expressed optimism that a deal would get done.
“I’m very optimistic,” Rizzo said of extension talks that began before spring training. “We’ve had really good conversations top to bottom.”
However, that optimism seems to have waned as multiple sources have told me that the Cubs don’t appear close to an extension with any of their core players. That obviously could change this week, but it is a dangerous game for the club to play with no control over three of their best players beyond this season.
From the Cubs perspective they do not view Opening Day as a hard deadline. In fact, when Rizzo agreed to his last contract extension in 2013 it wasn’t finalized until May. His camp had also targeted Opening Day 2013 for getting a deal done.
Privately club sources are confident that a deal will eventually get done.
How valuable is Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs? Check his numbers and you will find one of the most consistent hitters in the sport. Add in his “clutch” gene that seems to help him rise to meet pressure moments and he carries incredible value to the franchise. That doesn’t even include his contributions to the organization off the field.
As a cancer survivor Rizzo has raised millions of dollars for the Lurie Cancer Center and their Children’s hospital. He regularly visits sick children to boost their spirits and he is active in a multitude of charitable endeavors in the Chicago area. Here is a list of awards that Rizzo has collected as a Cubs star:
Platinum Glove winner, three-time All-Star, Silver Slugger winner, Roberto Clemente Award winner, Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award winner and Heart and Hustle Award winner.
In short, he is everything that a franchise could want in a player.
Check his stats on the field and you’ll find a player who gives you power, run production and league best defense at his position.
In fact, one of the most important stats in the sport is Win Probability Added. That stat measures the importance of a player’s performance in clutch situations. Since 2014 here are the leaders in that category:
1. Mike Trout - 34.24 2. Anthony Rizzo - 28.14 3. Paul Goldschmidt - 23.49 4. Freddie Freeman - 23.01 5. Bryce Harper - 22.97 6. Christian Yelich - 22.25 7. Mookie Betts - 20.96 8. Josh Donaldson - 19.35 9. Nelson Cruz - 17.72 10. Joey Votto - 17.19
So, a Cubs team that has openly talked about the importance of building another championship team and talks about a family culture that takes care of their players has let their unofficial captain twist in the wind with Opening Day five days away?
If they haven’t, why haven’t they announced a contract extension? If they are low-balling him, that’s embarrassing. He has done everything that has been asked of him and far beyond that on and off the playing field.
Throughout the spring, Cubs players spoke about their outstanding communication and relationship with new Cubs president Jed Hoyer.
He acquired Rizzo for three different franchises and often speaks eloquently about their relationship and his love for Rizzo. He obviously likes having him in the Cubs lineup or he would not have made him any substantive offer.
The baseball industry frowns on players over 30 getting long-term extensions. And in most cases I understand that philosophy. However, Anthony Rizzo is this generation’s Mr. Cub. The franchise has been the beneficiary of having their star on a below market deal for the past eight seasons.
Now it's time to do what’s right. He should be part of this organization for the rest of his life, let alone his career. He has earned it. It is a relationship that is perfect for both sides.
Just this week, Forbes released their franchise values for 2021 and had the Cubs as the fourth-most valuable franchise in baseball at just over $3.3 billion. That is a staggering return on investment considering the club was sold for $845 million just 12 years ago.
It is on management to do the right thing and get a fair deal done with the face of their franchise. Also signing Báez and Bryant to deals when both players have expressed a desire to stay in Chicago would be smart business.
The Cubs are worth a fortune. They can afford it.