After the note this morning in the Bullets about what a mad scramble the brief Offseason Part Two will be, I was thinking about how you would STRUCTURE that period if you were a front office.
With multiple months to simply talk internally about what you want to do, you would absolutely be developing a strategy on not only the players you want and at what price point, you’d be developing a strategy on how you would court them. Like, who calls whom, and how you keep other guys in the loop as backup plans when you know they might get pinged by another team at any moment, and how you coordinate with a possible trade. The flow chart the Cubs are creating has to be a monster. And it starts with knowing who gets a contract offer on day one. Which players you want to say yes or no immediately before moving on to other options.
To that point, I was specifically thinking about how you use those literal first minutes when the lockout ends. Like, assuredly you would know in advance that Jed Hoyer was going to call Agent X, and Carter Hawkins was going to call Agent Y, while both simultaneously text Agents A and B, and also text Team C. There has to be some game theory involved, too, since maybe your tip top target is also going to be the tip top target of five teams, so your chances of getting him are low … but if you hit up another target immediately when the lockout ends and say, “Hey, we’re calling YOU FIRST because you’re our priority,” maybe you have a better shot of getting that guy. So which do you choose, the low probability top target or the high probability second target?
The reason all that timing and game theory stuff stuck on my mind while checking in on the Rizzo-Cubs stuff is because of Levine’s latest report:
Free agency will happen quickly, and teams will have to be ready to act. In the case of the Cubs, they could look to bring back a familiar face.
The Cubs have had internal conversations about offering 32-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo a new contract when free agency begins, sources said.
Previously, Levine reported on The Score that there was a possibility the Cubs could try to sign Rizzo, so there’s an element to this report that merely amplifies what he said before: it’s not just that there’s a possibility, it’s that the Cubs have specifically discussed it internally. A very small distinction, but I’ll note it.
Why I’m really bringing this report to your attention, though, is because of all that stuff at the top: there is an implication in Levine’s writing – pairing those two sentences together as he did – that what’s *actually* being discussed by the Cubs is not all about considering Rizzo in an “if this happens and his market does that, maybe we can” fall-back scenario.
Instead, Levine’s report reads like what’s being considered is a first-phone-call-type situation, where when the clock strikes midnight or whatever, the Cubs immediately reach out to Rizzo’s reps to get a deal done on the spot. That feels considerably more surprising to me than the mere internal discussion of a deal – I mean, of course they would discuss the possibility of a deal internally for a long-time face of the organization whose bat (lefty power) and glove (park him at first, now that there’s the DH and no one else is displaced) make total sense on paper for the team.
But does Rizzo make SO MUCH sense that the Cubs would try to get him to sign a short-term, high-AAV deal (2/$40M is what Levine mentioned) right out of the gate? That’s hard for me to see.
I love Rizzo’s time with the Cubs, and I think he has productive years ahead of him, despite mixed results in 2020 and 2021, and the ongoing back stuff. It’s reasonable to conclude that his best days are behind him, but if we’re talking two or three years at a time when the Cubs aren’t balling out on the roster anyway, I can see there being useful production there.
Still, the market has a LOT of bat options out there still (particularly in the outfield), and there are also those intriguing Padres discussions that the Cubs haven’t been able to continue during the lockout (i.e., buying a prospect package while taking on Eric Hosmer – which makes sense only if you can use him a little bit at first base in a platoon role). You also have a number of other theoretical pursuers for Rizzo who might want to jump immediately, rather than risking waiting out Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson and being left holding the bag.
To me, the version where Rizzo comes back to the Cubs that makes sense is the version we talk about for a lot of players like him in the market: the “right” deal doesn’t come together elsewhere, and the Cubs see a player whom they can sign at a great value, who doesn’t negatively impact anything they’re trying to do long-term, whom they can use to give themselves a why-the-heck-not shot in the first half of 2022, and who could be traded if competitiveness stays out of reach. I don’t know whether Rizzo is going to WANT to be a possible trade chip with the Cubs again, so that’s a theoretical hurdle, but if there isn’t a better offer out there, he might still come back to the Cubs anyway.
That just doesn’t sound like a first phone call situation to me. I would think a first phone call situation involving Rizzo would make sense only if the Cubs also had several other high-impact moves that they KNEW they could make after signing Rizzo (i.e., a more aggressive approach to competing in 2022), so they wanted to get him locked down first for whatever reason. I don’t know how you could know in this moment that you’re definitely going to be able to land a great shortstop, a couple impact relievers, and maybe another quality swing arm. And, frankly, even if the Cubs did pull all that off, I’m not so sure it makes them an obvious on-paper contender anyway.
Don’t get me wrong: none of that is to say I’m somehow opposed to the Cubs bringing Rizzo back. It’s not that at all. I’m saying only that, when I think about the furious and frenetic first day after the lockout ends, I’m not sure I see Rizzo as being *THE GUY* the Cubs are trying to sign immediately. I do believe there’s an openness to it. And I can envision scenarios where it makes a lot of sense and winds up a great thing for the Cubs in 2022 and 2023. I just think it would have to be coordinated with some other moves to make the MOST sense, and I think those other moves would also need immediate priority.
Keep your phones warm, Jed and Carter, I guess. And also, even if the Cubs don’t immediately call Rizzo’s people, I still think it’s worth keeping an eye on this and the other first-base-needy teams. Just in case.