Baseball

How You Can Do Things Differently And Still End Up In The Same Place

You have to give it to Anthony Rizzo’s agent. There’s no time like the present to add on to the Cubs’ miserly ways and paint your client as the sympathetic one. It’s working for everyone else, and the organization may never be a bigger villain than it is right now.

When I first heard the news about the Cubs shrugging off any extension talk at the moment for Rizzo, it made sense in my mind. Because the Anthony Rizzo debate in 2021-2022 has always been a dicey one from the time he signed that contract back in 2013. Right now he’s one of the best bargains in the league.

But when he comes up for free agency with everyone else he’ll be 32 and turn 33 the next season. These days, that’s very much when it’s thought that players start their career descent, if not a year before. He’s had regular back issues the past couple of seasons, which have kept him out an increasing number of games the past two seasons. While he’s a great defensive first baseman, it’s not considered a premium position (though defensive metrics haven’t really figured out how to grade the errors 1st basemen save their teammates, because if they did Derrek Lee would be considered the greatest defensive player of all time and could rightfully sue Aramis Ramirez for half of his career earnings with the Cubs). A wait-and-see approach on Rizzo for those reasons makes some sense.

And yet, for someone who has seriously considered turning in his Cubs fan card if they trade Kris Bryant so as to avoid having to extend him or lose him for nothing, and for much higher money than Rizzo would get, the reasons kind of aren’t all that different, right?

Bryant is two years younger, so any extension he gets when he becomes a free agent, here or elsewhere, will certainly extend into years where he’s just not the player he was. You’d be getting some years of his peak, in theory, which you wouldn’t with Rizzo, in theory. He has been even more injury plagued the past two years. The difference being that A) it certainly feels like he was mishandled by the Cubs medical staff at least last year and possibly both, and B) shoulder and knee problems, while worrying, don’t portend quite as much to a full structural breakdown as recurring back problems would. But again, they’re not something you’d completely disregard either.

Theo Epstein commented when asked that the two sides were just too far apart to keep talking, and clearly the Cubs have other things they need to get done this winter (or have convinced themselves they have to get done). It’s hard to fathom what Rizzo was asking for come 2022. You would have to think his team had something like Paul Goldschmidt’s or Joey Votto’s $25M a year in mind, given that Rizzo has been fairly compared with at least the former for pretty much his whole career. Rightfully so.

Still, the Reds have watched Votto completely lose his power ever since he started earning the big check, and the Cardinals must fear the same after they watched Goldy’s wRC+ drop 30 points last year. And he’s 32, the exact age Rizzo will be turning when his time to hit the market comes.

Of course, by that rationale, you wouldn’t sign any player past their 30th birthday, really. And maybe that’s the approach some teams want to take and just might. But you could do this all day. The Cubs definitely want to sign Javy Baez to an extension, and he’s he exact same age as Bryant. And how much athleticism can he lose as he ages before it affects what he brings to the table? You can do this with Schwarber and Contreras too, if you want.

And for right now, the Cubs don’t appear inclined to consider the intangibles with Rizzo, of which there are many. He’s entrenched in the city and community, is the unquestioned leader of this team and pretty much the face of it, and the affection between and he and the fans couldn’t really be much higher. We want to believe that factors into contract negotiations, because we simply can’t bear the thought of Rizzo wearing another jersey. It wouldn’t make any sense.

All those things applied to Brent Seabrook as well. How’d that go?

Again, to me you just pay Rizzo something reasonable, unless he completely falls off or is using a cane in the next two years. Because they have the money, and perhaps at age 32 he won’t really be seeking more than four or five years and even if he’s not the All-Star he is now it’s hard to imagine him every being a true detriment to the team.

But it’s trickier than it appears on the surface. Maybe it all is.

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