When the Chicago Cubs extended Anthony Rizzo on a 7-year, $41M (steal of a) deal back at the beginning of the 2013 season, they were able to do so because Anthony Rizzo wasn’t really ANTHONY RIZZO yet. Yes, he was a former top prospect who crushed Triple-A pitching, but he also struggled in his first taste of the big leagues in San Diego (59 wRC+ through 49 games) and had just a half-season of success with the Cubs in Chicago (117 wRC+ through 87 games in 2012).
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? A player is willing to sign an extension like that precisely because (1) he hasn’t yet proven himself and (2) it’s still life-changing money. Meanwhile, a front office is willing to take on a risk like that because … well, it could possibly pay-off big, like it has with Rizzo (cost-certainty also plays a role, but with that comes less flexibility). But imagine if he didn’t accept that deal, at that time, electing instead to bet on himself long-term.
His first full season in 2013 wasn’t much to write home about (105 wRC+, 1.8 WAR), but Rizzo went OFF in 2014, slashing .286/.386/.527 (155 wRC+, 5.3 WAR) becoming the player we know and love today. If the Cubs tried to extend him at that point, it either wouldn’t have happened or would have been prohibitively expensive in concert with their other plans.
Unfortunatly, that’s where the Cubs are now with most of their core. They missed their chance to extend all of them when it was an affordable risk (though, as you’ll see, they did try) and have entered the “cost-prohibitive” stage, with respect to extending everybody.
“We had this young group that came through the farm system, that came up at the same time, and we offered all those guys extensions” said Cubs GM Jed Hoyer in his interview with 670 The Score earlier this morning.
“We tried hard to really keep this group together for as long as we can [but] I think there are certain realities where we’re not going to be able to keep this group together forever. It may be by them leaving through free agency, it may be by us trading some of them, you know we might be able to extend some of them. In all honesty, we’ve past the point of being able to extend all of those players. I think we had a moment in time where that might’ve been possible. And we’ve past that. The reality is we’ve kept this group together for a long-time by baseball standards …. we have to think about not only this year’s team, but how we’re going to field a competitive team beyond that group’s free agency after .”
Okay, now this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news to anyone paying attention. I think we’re all aware of the realities of the present, even in theoretical extension speak:
I see a lot of folks reacting to this, but … we already knew this? Unless you thought the Cubs were about to drop $150M on Rizzo, $250M on Bryant, $130M on Javy, $60M on Schwarber, $50M on Willy, and on and on. Of course they can't extend five+ guys who are all in arb years. https://t.co/j4NjoFQyi6
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) January 17, 2020
Given the market and the talent of the Cubs core, extending all of Bryant, Rizzo, Javy, Schwarber, Contreras, etc. isn’t really going to be an option anymore. It’d just be too expensive. We know that. We knew that. But it is still a little more sobering to hear it straight from Hoyer – and a little depressing to know that – at one time – it was possible. Again, the Cubs did try to make that happen, but clearly they didn’t have as much luck as they did with Rizzo. Perhaps you can argue that they should have had enough faith in these guys to offer the sort of deals they would accept, but without knowledge of the details that’s a pretty tough criticism from afar.
Moreover, this isn’t the end of the road.
Kyle Schwarber could still be a reasonably priced extension candidate and there’s been plenty of rumors towards a Javy Baez extension all winter. Anthony Rizzo wasn’t given an extension this offseason despite asking for one, but there’s Luxury Tax related concerns right now that won’t exist, say, next offseason (frankly, I’ll be shocked if the Cubs don’t come to an agreement with Rizzo for the long term at some point). Willson Contreras, meanwhile, still has three years of control, not just two, so there’s less urgency there (then again, that could lead them into the same issue!). And Kyle Hendricks and David Bote were extended. As for Kris Bryant, well, I think the writing is mostly on the wall. The Cubs offered him an extension at one point, it wasn’t accepted and they might not offer him the sort of deal he will ever accept with the Cubs.
Again, this isn’t some sort of crazy revelation, but it is a bit of a new data-point to internalize: The Cubs cannot feasibly extend all of their core anymore. Some of the players will be extended. Some will be traded. Some will play out their deals and hit free agency. They will not be together until the end and that’s that.
So … maybe we should go offer Ian Happ an extension before he continues to blow up, please? Thanks.