Javy Baez

Cubs provide further details on Anthony Rizzo's extension talks

Cubs provide further details on Anthony Rizzo's extension talks

SAN DIEGO — Anthony Rizzo's agent sent a shockwave through the Cubs world Wednesday morning at the Winter Meetings when he said the organization isn't working on an extension for the star first baseman.

In speaking with ESPN's Jesse Rogers, agent Marc Pollack said: "The Cubs have informed us that they will not be offering Anthony an extension at this time. Anthony has let his desire to be a Cub for life known to the organization. Although we do not know what the future holds, a deal to make that happen will not be addressed now."

Rizzo, 30, is under team control for the next two seasons — he's due $16.5 million in 2020 and has an identical club option for 2021.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer responded to Pollack's statement in a segment with David Kaplan for Wednesday's Sports Talk Live:

"We've always kept those conversations in-house," Hoyer said. "We've had conversations with lots of our guys over a five-year period and it’s always best to keep it quiet. I think in this case, Rizzo's agent decided to talk about it. We did have some conceptual talks about what an extension would look like and I think that, candidly, we were pretty far apart in terms of length and so he decided to come out and say that. 

"But we love Rizz. I hope he's a Cub forever. There's nothing that's been done that's going to stop future conversations, but we did have some conceptual conversations that obviously wasn't a match at this time. But this is a moment in time. It doesn't mean there's not going to be a match at some point in the future."

Hoyer reiterated Tuesday night what both he and Theo Epstein have been saying all winter — the Cubs have approached several players about extensions and have not yet reached an agreement with Rizzo, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant or anyone else.

Rizzo has won the Gold Glove three of the last four seasons and just wrapped up one of the best years of his career with a .293 batting average, .405 on-base percentage and .924 OPS to go along with 27 homers and 94 RBI. 

He is one of the faces of the franchise, but he's also dealt with back injuries the last couple years and is still two years away from free agency. There's plenty of time for the Cubs to work out a possible extension with Rizzo, but it doesn't appear that will happen this winter.

Wednesday evening, Epstein called the distance between the Cubs and Rizzo's camp on length is just part of the standard process for extension talks.

"The way I look at him is that he's a special player and he's done so much for the organization and the city that we value him very, very highly and we think highly of him as a person," Epstein said. "He's closely associated with our organization, our brand and everything that we're trying to do. He's not a free agent. He's not at risk of going anywhere right now.

"I know the story raised some alarms, but he's under control here for two more years, which we're thrilled about and there will be lots of opportunities for continuing the relationship. Again, more generally, when there's common ground on length, there can be deeper conversations. That's usually more typical when you get closer to free agency."

When Kaplan asked Hoyer if the Cubs are going to be able to lock down an extension for one of the core players before spring training, the GM responded:

“You know that’d be great," Hoyer said. "Like I said, we’ve had a lot of these conversations over the years. We know these agents so well based on these conversations; we can pick them up really easily. And we have a lot of good players and we’ve approached all these guys at some different point about extensions. And I understand — it takes both sides being happy to get something done. You don’t expect every time you go into a negotiation to get it done. You know sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t.

"But I can tell you it’s not for lack of trying. We have had tons of conversations and we’ll continue to. It would be great to keep some of these players in a Cubs uniform for a lot longer.”

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Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

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Epstein: Cubs 'not gonna force anything' on trade market this offseason

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AP

Epstein: Cubs 'not gonna force anything' on trade market this offseason

SAN DIEGO — In recent weeks, the expectations surrounding the Cubs offseason have crescendoed to the point where the question is not if they're going to trade a core player, but when

The writing has been on the wall teasing a major move, both from the Cubs themselves and from word around baseball published in national and local reports.

Following a disappointing 84-win season that somehow ended in a fashion that made the tail end of 2018 look like a smashing success in comparison, Theo Epstein called for change in every corner of the organization. That's manifested itself in a new manager, a new coaching staff, a complete restructuring of the player development and scouting departments and even a shakeup on the training staff. 

But as of yet, the roster remains unchanged — apart from the handful of players that hit free agency after the World Series ended. 

A team's 25-man (now 26-man) roster is constantly evolving, but if the Cubs return largely the same team that crumbled down the stretch last year, how can that bring about the change they desire? Then again, what's the point in making a move just to make a move?

"We're not gonna force anything," Epstein said Monday on the first day of MLB's Winter Meetings. "We're not gonna make change just for change's sake. I do think we can benefit from some change in certain areas and we are interested in pursuing some opportunities — opportunities to get better immediately and opportunities to make our future healthier as well. 

"But you can't force anything. You have to be realistic about the market that you're in and what opportunities come, but there are a lot of promising leads out there. Obviously we haven't gotten anything to the point of consummating a deal yet, but we're at the early stages of the offseason for us at this point, still."

In other words, the Cubs aren't going to sell off Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras or anybody else just to shake up the roster. They're only going to do it if some other team meets their asking price or returns fair value for the player they'd be trading away. 

That being said, the Cubs probably could use a shakeup to their core of players. Maybe "complacent" is too strong of a word to use regarding how the team has struggled to reproduce 2016's epic World Series run, but it also might be the best word to sum up the "winner's trap" Epstein detailed the day after the season ended

Everybody knew the bill would come due for the Cubs like this eventually. That's what happens when you have a wave of prospects all make their big-league debut around the same period of time — they all run out of club control at the same time. Coupled with the looming expiration of Anthony Rizzo's team-friendly contract and the tail end of the Jon Lester and Jose Quintana deals and the window is closing on the Cubs. 

If the last couple seasons had gone differently, maybe there would be an easier case to be made that the Cubs shouldn't be thinking about selling off parts and changing the roster and instead, adding to the group and going all-in for another couple championship runs before the window of contention runs out.

But watching the way the last two Septembers have unfolded and examining how the Cubs have fallen short of expectations each season, it's been apparent something had to be done differently. Epstein's front office can no longer simply expect the talent they have on the roster to carry the team into another National League Championship Series or beyond.

That's why they're focused this winter on not only improving the wins column for the 2020 team, but also looking at the bigger picture. They are not going to mortgage the future to go all-in on only the next two seasons.

That makes for a tricky and complicated offseason. It's hard to envision the Cubs being a better team in 2020 if they get rid of players like Bryant or Contreras. But it's also become clear that they're not just an addition or two away from being a legitimate World Series contender, so they need to focus more long-term.

"It's often the case where you're trying to serve multiple masters," Epstein said. "Or you have to manage different parts of the roster, manage different windows, different periods of time, try to build health in the organization, put an emphasis on young players while simultaneously polish the major-league roster. It's not that uncommon. 

"We knew this day was coming where we'd be reaching a period where we had just a couple years left of control on a lot of really good players and there were always gonna be challenging decisions that came along with it. We're just getting closer to that period of time. But it's something we've all been thinking about for a long period of time. It's not sneaking up on anybody."

When the MLB Winter Meetings were last in San Diego, the Cubs made waves by adding Joe Maddon as the manager and Jon Lester as the big-name free agent. With Bryant and a slew of elite prospects exploding onto the scene in their first big-league seasons, the talk around this franchise started including a word that is not thrown around lightly in sports. 

Fast forward five years and the Cubs are clearly not in the midst of a dynasty. Four straight trips to the playoffs, three straight trips to the NLCS and a World Series ring are nothing to sneeze at, but all those accomplishments are going on three or four seasons old at this point. 

The new world order in Cubdom is trying to serve those two masters Epstein spoke about — competing in a wide-open division in 2020 while also ensuring the longer-term health of the franchise is in a better spot than it currently sits.