MESA, Ariz. — Anthony Rizzo is having a good enough spring on the field that he already looks ready for 2021 — and having a spring so good off the field that it might keep him in a Cubs uniform for another three or four years.
“I’m very optimistic,” the three-time All-Star said of extension negotiations that began before spring training began last month. “We’ve had really good conversations top to bottom.”
That’s seems to be an especially strong indication of the likelihood of a deal getting done, considering Rizzo has put at least a soft deadline on negotiations of the end of spring training.
“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,” said Rizzo, who’s making $16.5 million in the final year of what turned into a nine-year, $72 million contract he signed as a rookie in 2013.
“I’ve obviously expressed it before. I love Chicago. I love the fans. I love the city,” he said. “I’m happy here. It’s just about doing what’s right and what makes sense.”
Rizzo, 31, signed that first deal in May but said Friday he wants the money matters off his plate when this second chance at a last hurrah with the Cubs 2016 championship core starts April 1 against the Pirates.
“The business stuff will unfold in a couple weeks, good or bad,” he said. “And then I’ll just leave it all on the field like I always do.
“Right now it’s our agents and [wife] Emily and I having great conversations about everything that’s going on,” he added. “It’s all good. It’s all positive. I feel really good. But once April 1 comes, it’s all about baseball.”
Rizzo, who approached the team about an extension more than a year ago and was rebuffed, has found a more natural timeline for the team to embrace talks in the offseason before his final season.
“I wasn’t really sure how I’d feel when I got to camp with all the talks and this and that," he said. "But when you’re out there on that field, it’s just baseball. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. I’m here, playing, like everything is set aside now and it’s baseball season. And that’s the best part. We’re in line to play 162. It’s been a full year since that. And getting back and having fans, talking to [media] in person, things are getting back to ... normal I guess.”
These talks also comes at a time of deep payroll cuts, roster transition and front office transition that included longtime general manager Jed Hoyer having been promoted to replace longtime team president Theo Epstein.
"I've been around Theo and Jed for 15 years now," said Rizzo, who was drafted by the Red Sox in 2007 when both Epstein and Hoyer ran that front office, then traded to San Diego when Hoyer left to become Padres GM in 2010 and eventually traded to the Cubs when Epstein and Hoyer reunited in Chicago before the 2012 season.
"They're cut from the same cloth as far as transparency with me and our relationship and the ups and downs of my health battle [with cancer as a minor-leaguer] and career and extension and winning," Rizzo said. "Just everything has been very easy for us to talk, to communicate with Theo, and same with Jed. It's been seamless."
Rizzo, who has grown into a face-of-the-franchise role over the years, is considered one of the best first basemen in the game, with 229 homers, a career .857 OPS, three top-10 MVP finishes and four Gold Gloves (including a Platinum Glove).
“I want to be here for the rest of my career. I want to be here 25 years from now when the Cubs are in the World Series, throwing out first pitches,” he said. “I’ve seen other Cubs greats come back. That motivates me to keep getting better.”
He said that discussions with team officials about long-term competitive plans also motivate him to want to stay.
"It's big," said the Cub who called a 2015 division title after a last-place finish in 2014 (and missed by just three games). "My goal is bringing the next championship here in Chicago. It's coming. It's coming soon. It's coming to the city. That's my focus: How are we going to win?"
"It's March 12. Everybody feels good," he said, adding they've still got to go out and back it up. "But as far as potentially rebuilding and all that stuff, they've been 'trading guys' and 'blowing up' this team for the last three years. It's all part of the business and what comes with it. You just stay focused on the task."
And that focus on the business side has a ticking clock this time around for the Cubs to get done the one extension that might be the least complicated to put together among possible deals involving Javy Báez and Kris Bryant — both in walk years — and possibly All-Star catcher Willson Contreras (a free agent after next year).
Otherwise, that ticking could take on a whole new feel for this team by the trade deadline — in a far more real way than the last two years.
“We’ve got a couple more weeks to Opening Day,” Rizzo said. “Everything between now and then is exciting stuff. Either good or bad, whatever happens is exciting for the future. And once Opening Day comes this team is going to be focused on just playing baseball.”