MESA, Arizona — If Fernando Tatis Jr.’s $340 million contract extension with the small-market Padres, in a pandemic economy, says anything about Major League Baseball, it’s that even the owners know the pandemic hasn’t killed their golden goose.
“Listen, this game’s doing well,” said Cubs veteran All-Star Anthony Rizzo, the one-time Padre. “We’re making a lot of money with the product, and a guy like Tatis Jr. — he’s exciting for the game.”
Why did Rizzo get asked to comment on all that money in the game Monday in relation to the little team with two $300 million contracts on the books (also Manny Machado)? Because he’s one of three key Cubs players in their “walk” years — and perhaps the most likely of any of them to find enough common ground to get an extension done with the club.
Team president Jed Hoyer said recently he expects to have conversations with several Cubs about their futures with the team and possible extensions.
“Obviously, seeing Jed’s comments and just getting to talk to Jed about the team has been nice,” said Rizzo, who makes $16.5 million this year on a team-friendly contract he has outperformed since signing it in 2013. “Obviously, everything I love about this city, I kind of wear it on my sleeve, and I still love it. I still love our team. I still love what we have going on here, and keeping everything here inside this building would be the smartest approach for everyone.
“As far as a timeline, I’m not really sure. We haven’t really talked about much of any of that.”
Rizzo, 31, approached the front office during the offseason a year ago about an extension and was rebuffed.
“It made a lot of sense to try to get it done and not try to break their bank and also be fair,” he said last spring. “On the other side it didn’t make sense.”
Bank shouldn’t be an issue this time, even for a Cubs ownership group decrying “biblical” industry losses in 2020.
If Tatis’ contract doesn’t say that much, then this does: The Cubs have three players under guaranteed contracts for next year at a total of $38.5 million after cost-cutting and payroll maneuvers this winter.
And while owners and players both are expected to strongly consider what’s expected to be contentious labor negotiations over the next year when weighing risk and reward, Rizzo could be in a unique position compared to walk-year brethren Javy Baez and Kris Bryant in extension talks.
He’s a few years older and figures to be talking about a shorter potential deal on likely more modest terms. And his relationship with the organization since his rookie year has set him up as a veteran clubhouse face, if not face of the franchise.
“Going back to 2013 when we went through this process, it was a pretty easy process,” said Rizzo, who sees no difference with Hoyer at the top of the front office now compared to Theo Epstein then. “There’s so much history that we have and there’s so much camaraderie.
“It’s exciting to be in this position, and I’m grateful and healthy and just excited to play baseball and be here in spring training and have a full spring training and get ready for 162.”
He didn’t rule out being willing to allow talks to continue into the season if nothing gets done this spring. In fact, his 2013 extension got done after the season started.
He also seems well aware of his baseball mortality, whether that’s about what’s left of his career or specifically his time in Chicago.
“At the end of this year, I’ll look back with no regrets because every day, you just enjoy it,” he said. “It’s too short. Life’s too short. The [career in the] game’s too short. All the cliches. But I really do live my life that way.”
And all that money in the game? All that money the Cubs have made during that six-year run of on-field success and profits he helped create? And whatever his fair share of that might be in the next few years?
“Obviously we’re paid a great deal to play this game,” he said. “When the mind does drift, I still remember what I’m doing. I’m playing baseball. I was at my nephew’s T-ball practice the other day, and [recognized] the appreciation that this is what I’m doing for a living.
“I’ll just go out and be me, and play well, and I know the money aspect and the business side will take care of itself.”