When new Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer took the mic earlier today for his introductory press conference, his comments on the current lack of extension talks were disappointing. I understand the timing – we haven’t reached the tender deadline yet – but surely there are guys the Cubs already know they’d like to keep long-term.
Not only do the Cubs have several key players entering their final year of team control, but one of those players, Anthony Rizzo, is the longest-tenured Cub and (unofficial) captain of the team. I know he’s not the youngest player in Chicago and perhaps his best years are behind him, but I’d really rather not live in a world without Anthony Rizzo at first base even one day sooner than I have to.
Fortunately, Hoyer went on to explain that there are, of course, guys they’d like to keep long-term, and for the reasons I mentioned above, I do genuinely believe Anthony Rizzo to be at the top of that pile. And, hey, remember: Hoyer is the guy who’s acquired Rizzo three times. Not Theo Epstein. (Of course, Hoyer is also the guy that said the Cubs and Rizzo’s camp were too far off on an extension last winter, so ….)
But that was a year ago and a lot can change over 12 months (for both sides). So let’s revisit this conversation and see if we can’t land somewhere that works for both parties. Even if we’re just imagining it.
First thing’s first: Anthony Rizzo, 31, is currently under the Cubs control for 2021 at $14.5 million. In my scenario, which is wholly speculative, I’m going to presume that the Cubs and Rizzo will be open to restructuring this year as part of a broader deal. So with that in mind, what’s the offer? How about a five-year, $100M deal that comes with a $25M option/$10M buyout at the end (so it’s $110M guaranteed).
Here’s how that’d play out with his playing age in parenthesis for each season:
2021 (age 31 season): $10M + $5M signing bonus (EOY)
2022 (32): $17.5
2023 (33): $22.5M
2024 (34): $22.5M
2025 (35): $22.5M
2026 (36): $25M option ($10M buyout)
Let’s start with 2021, where Rizzo effectively gets an extra $500K in return for restructuring his salary so that only $10M is on the books for the payroll this season with the other $5M coming in the form of a bonus at the end of the year, when the financial outlook of the team should be better (or at least more certain). I could conceive of ways to tie that bonus to a $5M floor with higher upside depending on the number of games played with fans in 2021 (or something to that effect). In either case, Rizzo gets a little bit of a bump this year, but is effectively earning the same amount.
This structure gives the Cubs some breathing room on payroll in 2021 and 2022, but guarantees Rizzo sizable chunks in 2023-2025, more commensurate with his value. Maybe it’s more than the Cubs want to pay for those years, but it’s also probably not quite the length Rizzo would be hoping for (only four new years guaranteed).
Including 2021, the absolute least Rizzo could make overall would be $110M and the most he could make is $125 million. In either case, this would probably be the last (or at least last significant) big league deal of his career.
So the question then: would he take a deal like this?
Setting aside the love we have for Rizzo and he may have for Chicago, the question boils down to dollars and cents. If Rizzo were to test free agency after 2021, how well would he have to perform (and how healthy would he have to remain) to beat the actual “meat” of the extension, which is really a four year, $85M deal with a club option for $25M (plus $10M buyout).
Put another way, that’s effectively a $95M guarantee over four years for a 32-year-old first baseman.
On the one hand, of course Rizzo could beat that if he is as good in 2021 as he has been throughout his career. Not only has he been a uniquely consistent (and consistently above-average) offensive performer throughout his career, he’s also a four-time Gold Glover at first base, and a famously adored member and leader in the clubhouse. Barring a cataclysmic turn in revenues throughout 2021 or a cataclysmic turn in performance, he’s a very good bet to beat that guarantee.
At the same time, you cannot completely ignore those “barring this or that” things.
Rizzo is coming off his worst offensive season since he wore a Padres jersey in 2011. No, he was never really concerning at the plate this year, and plenty of 2020-caveats apply, but I’m just saying … his performance hardly works in his favor. Moreover, he has missed time in just about every single season with back injuries, and that’s going to be a lingering concern for any interested party, including the Cubs. Lastly, after signing a team-friendly deal back in 2013, this new deal would trump the previous one considerably. Given the uncertainties of 2021 and the expectedly contentious CBA negotiations of 2022, a $100+ million offer right now, is going to be tough to turn down.
Returning to a portion of the Cubs perspective that I just have to say: WHO CARES how much it costs.
I believe Anthony Rizzo will be worth that proposed contract based SOLELY on his performance on the field and in the clubhouse, to say nothing of his popularity in Chicago, but this is about so much more than that. Anthony Rizzo is the Cubs. He defines this era. To outsiders, Javy Báez might be the headline guy with the biggest jersey sales, Kris Bryant might be the MVP who led his team to the World Series, and Yu Darvish may have the most likable personality and online presence we’ve seen in years (I could go on with others), but Anthony Rizzo is the heart and soul of this franchise. The Cubs must do what it takes to lock him up, and I just happen to think that deal is fair for both sides.
The Cubs may not currently be engaged in any extension discussions at the moment – and they will probably want to preserve as much flexibility as they can through the heart of the winter – but the time will come soon enough. And I hope – very strongly – they prioritize a deal for Rizzo. I can’t imagine going through this next era of Cubs baseball without him.