Sources Say the Cubs Are Talking to the Padres About First Baseman Anthony Rizzo (UPDATE x3)

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Sources Say the Cubs Are Talking to the Padres About First Baseman Anthony Rizzo (UPDATE x3)

Chicago Cubs

For those not following the comments, or BN on Twitter, or BN on Facebook yesterday, the Cincinnati Reds picked up 24-year-old starter Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres for a very healthy return – first baseman Yonder Alonso, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, relief prospect Brad Boxberger, and pitcher Edinson Volquez.

Among my immediate reactions to the trade: it was both good and bad for the Cubs.

The Reds just got better for 2012 (they are clearly “going for it”), which could further put the Cubs’ hopes for a surprising 2012 run out of reach. At the same time, the move weakened the Reds in the long run, which might line things up better for the Cubs when they actually project to the be good again. Also, the move can only help the Cubs’ market for Matt Garza, should they elect to trade him. To be clear, Latos probably has more value than Garza, as a pitcher under cheap team control through 2015. But the return on Latos was huge, and the Reds were not one of the teams interested in Garza – so, acquiring Latos didn’t take away one of the possible landing spots for Garza.

The second reaction that I, and so many others, had? What are the Padres going to do with top first base prospect, Anthony Rizzo?

That we thought of Rizzo is unsurprising – not only is he a top, young first baseman (something the Cubs clearly want), but he was drafted by the Red Sox back in 2007 when the Cubs’ triumvirate of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were running the show. And then, when the Padres dealt first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox last year, whom did Hoyer net in the deal for the Padres? Rizzo.

It makes too much sense, right? The Padres now have effectively blocked Rizzo (though GM Josh Byrnes is being a wise man, telling the world that they expect Rizzo to head back to AAA for 2012, and that they’re perfectly happy to keep both Alonso and Rizzo), and he’s just the kind of kid the Cubs want. And he’s a kid they already have a connection to. Let’s do it! Totally! Perfect fit!

But here’s the thing about our initial reaction: the Padres had that reaction, too. If anyone knows how much Jed and Jason love Rizzo, it’s the existing Padres’ front office. You think Jed wasn’t discussing with folks there how much he wanted Rizzo included when putting the Gonzalez deal together?

There is no sneaky maneuver to be had here. If the Cubs approach the Padres about Rizzo – about which, more in a moment – the Padres will undoubtedly hold their feet to the fire. The Padres don’t have to trade Rizzo, and they certainly don’t have to trade him to the Cubs. The Padres don’t care that Rizzo is a perfect fit for the Cubs, except to the extent it might allow them to extract additional value out of the Cubs. And, given the Padres’ near-term position (i.e., non-contention), there aren’t too many pressure points the Cubs can apply to get the Padres to pull the trigger on a deal favorable to the Cubs.

In fact, I can only think of two angles for leverage for the Cubs. The first: threaten to sign Prince Fielder. Maybe it’s unconvincing, given how divergent the two paths are (22-year-old prospect, 27-year-old All-Star wanting a mega contract). But if the Cubs express that they are close to signing Fielder, which would eliminate their interest in Rizzo, perhaps that helps? I suppose it’s also possible that a deal for Rizzo could include Matt Garza (whom the Padres may not want, but they could spin off to the Rangers, for example), and the Cubs could concurrently negotiate a Garza deal with another team, and whoever pulls the trigger first gets Garza. That would be the second possible way to create leverage.

Absent those, the Cubs would be negotiating with a team who knows just how much they value the asset they’re trying to get from the Padres, and the Padres have no incentive not to squeeze them for every last drop. That rarely ends well. Hopefully the Cubs can still swing a fair deal, if indeed they put something together.

About approaching the Padres: the Cubs made that call within minutes of the trade announcement (and I got word of the call not long after that). Since then, I’ve been “working the phones,” so to speak, to try to get a handle on how the Cubs might try to put something together. All I’ve yet been able to confirm is that the two sides are talking, and that a deal would probably involve a fair bit more than just a straight-up Player X for Rizzo swap. Jim Bowden, for what it’s worth, says Matt Garza’s name is coming up as a possible centerpiece in a deal. Based on the Latos deal, and the A’s requests for Gio Gonzalez, the Cubs should be able to get a fair bit more than just Rizzo for Garza.

Ah, yes. Rizzo. After all of this discussion, you may be wondering: is Rizzo really worth all of this spilled ink? The short answer is oh yeah.

Rizzo, who just turned 22 in August, is the top prospect in a very, very good Padres’ system. Rizzo was a top 100 prospect in all of baseball going into 2011, and then all he did was put up an eye-popping .331/.404/.652 line, with 26 homers and 34 doubles in just 93 games. Those numbers are great even for the PCL, particularly for a 21-year-old. Before 2011, Rizzo’s minor league numbers were good, if unremarkable, but he was young at every level, and was consistent after each promotion. Rizzo is also believed to be an above average defender at first base.

Rizzo was called up late last year for a cup of coffee, and struggled mightily, hitting just .141/.281/.252 in 153 plate appearances (love that IsoD, though, eh?). Very few saw that as a reason for concern, however.

If Rizzo is being made available, the Cubs will have some competition, at a minimum, from the Rays, who have the talent to make a deal, and the need for a young first baseman. I’m guessing this isn’t the last we’ve heard about this.

UPDATE: Some of the other names I’m hearing bounced around in the talks include Orlando Hudson, Casey Kelly, Keyvius Sampson, Simon Castro, Jedd Gyorko, Robbie Erlin, and Joe Weiland. Obviously the Cubs wouldn’t be getting all of them (or even most). These are just some of the names that the Cubs are interested in, or – in Hudson’s case – that the Padres want to ship back to the Cubs. A three-team deal with the Rangers (who would get Garza) is also a possibility.

UPDATE II: The Cubs are still in active discussions with the Padres, I’m told, but it’s pretty complicated when you’ve got this many parts involved. The Cubs’ most valuable piece is Matt Garza, but the Padres may prefer to get the prospect-equivalent of Garza, rather than the pitcher, himself. That means a third team is necessary, and the Rangers have been involved. Bringing in a third team makes completing an already “complicated” deal a real “pain” (not my words). The two/three sides will continue to discuss a deal until they reach an agreement or seem hopelessly gridlocked. These things tend to take on a life of their own, and the deal could evolve into yet another incarnation. Or, it could just wilt on the vine. With this many players involved and such high stakes, I couldn’t say a deal is more than 50/50 to get done. You’ve also got the Prince Fielder pursuit and Yu Darvish post as a backdrop for these discussions, which only complicates things further. I’m doing my best to get the most complete and reliable information I can, but, given the circumstances and the moving parts, you can understand how the best I can give you is: (1) they’re talking, (2) a trade might be completed soon, (3) or a trade might be completed in a week, and (4) or a trade might be completed never.

UPDATE III: I’m told the biggest hold up, from the Cubs’ perspective, is making sure they get the right pitchers/pitching prospects included in the deal. While Rizzo may have been the impetus for the discussions, the Cubs don’t appear to be interested in moving Garza unless some very, very good pitchers/pitching prospects are included. That is to say, Rizzo may not necessarily be “the centerpiece” of a completed deal, such as there is a centerpiece, and such as the sides are actually able to consummate a deal (which, again, remains very much in doubt).

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.