Farewell to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Báez

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Farewell to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Báez

Chicago Cubs

Although this isn’t going to be the last time we say goodbye to Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Báez, we have to take our first step in that direction. Here’s mine.

Given the Cubs’ position in the NL Central, the parallel expiration of several contracts, the staleness of an offense plagued by too many of the same bananas, and some general fatigue with the overall product since 2017, the Chicago Cubs became sellers at the 2021 MLB Trade Deadline. All told, they traded nine players, including a starter, three relievers, and five position players. Two of those position players, Joc Pederson and Jake Marisnick, were short-term Cubs pieces whose departure hardly registered a blip on the emotional radar. The other three, however … Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez, Kris Bryant … those three meant something to the city.

Like I mentioned above, I can’t promise to say everything I want to say about these three players here today, but I want to get the ball rolling and begin the process of closure. And the Cubs provided the perfect opportunity by delivering three absolutely fantastic farewell videos that I think you should see. I’ll provide a little context before each, but I’m going to let the videos do most of the work here.

Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo played his first game with the Chicago Cubs on June 26, 2012 and his last game on July 28, 2021. That’s 9 years, 1 month, and 2 days in Cubbie blue. He was the first new Cub, the signal that the tide was turning as the rebuild got underway. And on Thursday, he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he’s already hit his first home run.

It’s difficult to fully express what Anthony Rizzo meant to this team and city, and my family, in particular. I know this is not a universal experience, but as a full-blooded Italian myself (grandparents from the old country and everything), Rizzo’s embrace of his Italian culture meant a lot to us. All my nieces and nephews have a copy of his book, “Anthony Rizzo is a good Italian Boy” and my grandma used to tell me to tell him to “eat something,” because he was looking too skinny lately (I don’t actually KNOW Anthony Rizzo, and I also don’t think he was too skinny … ).

During his time with the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo hit 242 home runs, drove in 784 RBI, and slashed .272/.372/.489 (132 wRC+), which is 32% better than the average player. He also had a few scoreless relief appearances along the way. Anthony Rizzo was a 3x All-Star, a 4x Gold Glover, a Silver Slugger, and a World Series Champion. And due to his charitable efforts (both in money and his own time), he became one of the youngest Roberto Clemente Award winners ever.

I never thought he was going to leave the Cubs. Ever.

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant was drafted by the Chicago Cubs with the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft and was almost immediately on a rocket ship to stardom. He was easily the best prospect the Cubs had maybe ever had (at least, in retrospect, that’s certainly true), and he delivered very quickly. After just one full professional season as a minor leaguer (… and two extra weeks in Iowa for “development”), Bryant was called up to the Chicago Cubs on April 17th, 2015.

He played his last game in a Cubs uniform on July 28, 2021 for a total of 6 years, 3 months, and 11 days in a Cubs uniform.

During his debut season in Chicago, Bryant did NOT disappoint, slashing .275/.369/.488 (136 wRC+) en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors, and the Cubs’ first NLCS appearance since 2003.

This is going to sound silly, but I think it’s true: With the exception of the World Series title, itself, in 2016, the 2015 season was actually the most fun stretch of this entire run. The Cubs surprisingly won 97 games on their way to the postseason as a Wild Card, where they immediately tackled the Pirates *and then* the Cardinals to get to the NLCS. And although this team had some veterans to help navigate these waters, it was mostly an unproven, inexperienced group of kids playing on the biggest stage of their lives. Kris Bryant was the best among them.

For as much as the injuries derailed part of this time in Chicago, Bryant was one of the single most talented players to ever wear this jersey. He finishes his career with 31.1 WAR (21st in Cubs history, right behind Rizzo), but NOBODY ahead of him on the list played in fewer games. He was a true MVP and we were lucky to have him.

Without Kris Bryant, none of this happens.

Kris Bryant finishes his Cubs career slashing .279/.378/.508 (136 wRC+) with 160 HRs … and as a 4x All-Star, the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, the 2016 NL MVP, and a World Series champion.

Javy Báez

Anthony Rizzo might’ve meant the most, Kris Bryant may have been the best, but the Cubs have never EVER had a player like Javy Báez. In fact, the league hardly ever saw anyone like him. Báez singlehandedly made tagging a measurable skill, he perfected the magical slide, he was truly fueled by big moments like no player I’ve ever seen before, and he played with the sort of passion and noise Cubs players before him rarely, if ever, revealed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Cubs selected Javy Báez with the 9th overall pick in the 2011 draft, which was actually the last pre-Theo Epstein draft (thanks, Jim Hendry!). As a younger player, he had a longer, more traditional journey through the minor leagues, finally arriving after Rizzo, but before Bryant, on August 5th, 2014. He played his final game with the Cubs on July 29, 2021 for a total of 6 years, 11 months, and 24 days in Cubs gear.

I really don’t know if I can describe what it’s like to watch Javy Báez play baseball, and I think most Cubs fans can relate to that. Fans of other teams who don’t/didn’t watch him closely just couldn’t fully grasp the extent of his ability to impact a game, even when he was striking out with regularity or frustrating us with over-aggressiveness. Báez is a one-of-a-kind player. A winning player. A rare guy who makes me want to throw away the advanced analytics and scream JUST WATCH HIM PLAY AND YOU’LL UNDERSTAND.

Javy Báez finishes his Cubs career slashing .262/.303/.474 (102 wRC+) with 140 HRs. He was a 2x All Star, an MVP runner-up, a co-NLCS MVP, a Gold Glover, a Silver Slugger, the 2018 NL RBI leader, and, of course, a World Series champion.

Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javy Báez are free agents at the end of the season. Therefore, it is at least possible that one could find their way back to the North Side of Chicago before too long.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)


Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami