Anthony Rizzo is the heart and soul of the Chicago Cubs. He has been since that fateful day in June of 2014 when Aroldis Chapman fired two BBs up around Nate Schierholtz’s head and Rizzo took exception, essentially challenging Chapman and the entire Reds’ dugout to a fight on the first base line. Not only is a central figure in the clubhouse, he’s the most consistent Cubs performer of this era.
Aside from an aberrational April that cut into his 2018 production, it has become pretty much a given that you can pencil Rizzo in for 30 home runs and 100 RBI every season. His OBP hasn’t been lower than last year’s .376 since 2013. He has two Gold Gloves to his name, and even took home a Platinum Glove in 2016. There’s a Silver Slugger award is in his trophy case. Oh, and then there’s that World Series trophy.
In addition to performing at a consistently elite level for the last five seasons, Rizzo has done it all on a team-friendly contract that has paid him an average of less than $6 million a year. A seven-year, $41 million dollar extension paid an unproven 23-year-old a lot of money, but it also bought out the entirety of his prime. And, although that contract was a financial gamble for the Cubs in 2013, it has become a boon with the way Rizzo has performed.
So, the question that begs an answer is: How long do the Cubs want to keep Rizzo in blue pinstripes? Because we know from Paul Sullivan’s recent piece that Rizzo wants to remain a Cub for the rest of his career. Based on his relationship with the fanbase, local charities, and the organization as a whole, I would think most people would say the feeling is mutual.
Unfortunately, this is a billion dollar business we are talking about. What should happen clearly does not translate to what does happen. And if you’ve been watching the free agent market over the last two winters, you also know that there’s a gap in what most players want and what they’re actually getting. So, back to Rizzo and what the Cubs will do with his contract going forward.
He is currently 29 years old and is officially signed through this year, but the Cubs hold options at $14.5 million for each of the next two seasons. He’s making a little over $11 million this year, which he admitted is more than enough and a nice contract, but it’s certainly not market value for someone of his ilk. By the time his current deal is up, he will have officially played through his prime as a Cub.
Given those facts and figures, it seems to me there are three different avenues the Cubs could take regarding Rizzo.
Option 1: Cubs let Rizzo walk
Since Rizzo’s will have theoretically played his best baseball by that point, it’s wholly possible the Cubs make a purely business decision. It just doesn’t seem that likely. As mentioned, Rizzo is the heart and soul of the team and has been a great player, leader, and person. Unless there is a serious drop-off in his production or something else unforeseen happens, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs just playing out the string and then snipping it after 2021.
Option 2: Let it ride a couple more years
The second possibility is a wait-and-see model where the Cubs remain patient and then make an offer when it gets closer to 2021. This could make sense for both club and player since it coincides with the conclusion of the current CBA. It might allow both parties to have a better idea of the financial landscape and could better establish Rizzo’s value in both directions.
Since Rizzo is controlled for the next three years, the Cubs may want to take a more pragmatic approach by extending some of their younger core first. They may already be making progress on that front, perhaps with Kyle Hendricks, Javy Báez, and others. Kris Bryant is another with whom the Cubs would like to agree to a longer deal, though his situation may demand a little more time and effort.
Option 3: Rework current deal right now
This is the option I think is most likely, so let’s delve deeper. Even though the Cubs are in no hurry to make this happen, they might want to reward their leader for outperforming his current extension. They could rework the three years that are left, or they could just extend Rizzo for another three to five years after those two team options.
What kind of money are we talking here? While Rizzo is a great player, he’s almost 30 and isn’t going to command anything like what we saw with Nolan Arenado’s recent $260 million extension. The Cubs could look to tack on a few more years at around that $14.5 million figure he’s making in the club option years.
Added to the three years he’s got left, a three-year extension around $45 million would get him to about $85 million over six years and a similar five-year extension would total approximately $115 over eight years. Even if the AAV of a potential deal is closer to $20 million, you’re in the $100-140 million range. This would still be a relative bargain and would set both parties up for success going forward.
Rizzo would be 35 or 37 at the conclusion of either option above, age at which most players would be considering retirement. If the Cubs want Rizzo to be the leader of this franchise moving forward, another extension seems logical. He’d be able to age gracefully into a Grandpa Rizzy role and the inevitable advent of the DH in the National League means he could be productive even if his glove falters.
While Rizzo could certainly command more on the open market, something tells me he would be open to a hometown discount if it meant he could retire as a Cub. His place in both the community and Cubs history might be important enough to him on personal level to forego a little extra financial security. If club and player can mutually benefit from an extension, you’d have to think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.
“You look at the guys who have done that, especially with this franchise … all the guys that have played here before us,” Rizzo said. “It’d be cool to end my career here.”
Yes, I agree. It would be very cool to see No. 44 up on the flagpole one day.