The regular season begins in just three days, and although it may not be a hard deadline for getting an extension done with Anthony Rizzo, it’s certainly a soft line in the sand. Once we get to Opening Day, Rizzo is officially playing in his walk year. He’s in his final season before reaching free agency. It just changes things, and you would see it play out – awkwardly – almost every day.
So all would agree, if you’re going to get a deal done, the next three days are the optimal time. Or at least, get a very firm framework in place so that there are little more than t’s to cross and i’s to dot once the season begins.
Are the Cubs there with Rizzo yet? Close to a deal? Well, it doesn’t sound like it.
The latest from Jon Heyman, Dave Kaplan, and Jesse Rogers all seem to paint a similar picture: the talks are real but the sides are not close. There’s a large gap to try to close in the coming days if a deal is going to get done.
How big is the gap?
On the radio this morning, Jon Heyman indicated that he’s heard Rizzo wants to get at least into the nine figures, but the Cubs aren’t there yet. If the Cubs are below nine figures, you can reasonably surmise that they’re at four years or shorter, because the AAV they’d be offering right now is unlikely to be above $25 million. So the gap could be really quite large.
But! I want to talk through a hypothetical scenario that could show how Rizzo and the Cubs could be simultaneously really far apart, and also not that far apart …
Let’s say Rizzo’s perspective is that his deal should move the market forward. Paul Goldschmidt got a five-year, $130 million deal from the Cardinals ahead of his age 31 season, and Rizzo might argue that they are good comps for each other based on total value and expected performance. Since the market moves north, and since Rizzo would want to use Goldschmidt as a comp, then he might argue his deal – also ahead of his age 31 season and kicking in after the year – should be north of the five years Goldschmidt got, and/or north of the $26 million Goldschmidt got. Throw in the face-of-the-Cubs situation and his previous team-friendly deal, and it wouldn’t be outrageous for Rizzo to have come to the table with an initial ask of something like six years and $162 million ($27M AAV).
The Cubs might counter that Rizzo is coming off a down 2020 and not a string of six straight huge years like Goldschmidt was (the six years before Goldschmidt’s extension, he had a 149 wRC+ and was worth 32.8 WAR; for Rizzo, those numbers are 136 and 22.2). That Rizzo’s down year was his most recent year would also be offered up as a concern (even if we could explain it away). They would also say the economic environment now is very different from what it was two years ago – if he has a great year, does Rizzo get way over $100 million in free agency? – and they would also probably argue that the Cardinals went over-and-above to get Goldschmidt signed because they’d just traded for him. Given Rizzo’s age, and if you believe he is currently in a tier below what Goldschmidt was then, it wouldn’t be outrageous for the Cubs to have come to the table with an initial offer or something like three years and $72 million ($24M AAV).
So in that hypothetical world, where each of Rizzo and the Cubs are pushing right up to the boundaries of what would be outrageous, the sides are nearly $100 million apart. No chance they can close such an enormous gap, right? It’s over. Shut it down.
Except in the world of negotiations, those two hypothetical sides actually wouldn’t be THAT far apart!
How is that possible, you say?
Well, consider a bracketing strategy, where, instead of trying to come to an agreement straight away, you simply try to shrink the massive gap, and then go from there.
In this strategy, as applied to this hypothetical, maybe Rizzo’s camp would say, “OK, we will chop off one year and come down $2 million in AAV, *ONLY IF YOU* move up one year and come up $2 million in AAV.” (You could play with these numbers however you like, but that’s the principle.)
Each movement is reasonably sized – just a year, and just $2 million in AAV – but when they both agree to move in tandem, look what happens to the previously gargantuan gap: now Rizzo is at five years and $125 million, and the Cubs are at four years and $96 million. In one single bracketed move, a nearly $100 million gap in guaranteed dollars has just shrunk to just $29 million. Each side made a reasonable move, and then boom, they are a WHOLE lot closer to each other. Suddenly, a deal looks achievable by further negotiation.
Maybe the Cubs agree at that point to a longer deal to get Rizzo a higher total guarantee than Goldschmidt, but at a much lower AAV (which could help with future luxury tax considerations). Or maybe Rizzo agrees at that point to a shorter deal, but gets a much higher AAV in the process (maybe even topping Goldschmidt’s AAV). Maybe you play with opt outs and option years and achievable bonuses and what-have-you.
The point here is less about proposing a specific contract that could get a deal done – all I could do is evaluate the player and the market and take a guess – and instead about how you can shrink massive gaps in negotiations. About how you can treat each other well in the process, even if you think the other side lowballed you (or way overshot). About how you can deal with the twin realities that the Cubs know Rizzo probably can’t expect to get a Goldschmidt-level deal in free agency, and Rizzo knows the Cubs cannot justify letting the face of the franchise walk.
This can get done. There is a process to make it work. The clock is ticking. I hope this can happen.