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A few more thoughts about the Anthony Rizzo contract situation

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Before you panic, read between the lines.

Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The overwhelming majority of Cubs fans would like, I believe, to see Anthony Rizzo play the rest of his major-league career in a Cubs uniform, get a retirement-day sendoff, perhaps even see his No. 44 raised on a flagpole in Wrigley Field.

The report Monday that contract extension talks between the team and Rizzo had apparently broken off, then, was unsettling. (Incidentally, thanks to Josh for writing this up while I was on the road back to Chicago from Arizona Monday.)

If you look at what actually happened, though, the news isn’t likely as bad as you think it is.

In The Athletic, this article by Ken Rosenthal and Patrick Mooney gives us some clues and information to parse.

First, there’s this:

The Cubs offered Rizzo a five-year extension for $70 million, according to major-league sources. The proposal, an initial offer subject to negotiation, was front-loaded and included escalators that would have enabled Rizzo to earn more on the back end, sources said.

If that dollar amount is true, that’s... insulting. That’s less on an annual basis ($14 million) than Rizzo will make this year ($16.5 million). It’s certainly not the way to begin negotiations, even if the note in The Athletic’s article (that there are escalators) is true.

With this becoming known just a few days before Opening Day, it’s no surprise that Rizzo wouldn’t want to talk about it. But look at the way his quote is phrased:

“We’ve had enough time to talk and try to figure it out,” Rizzo said. “I told my agents to not talk to me about it anymore, even from this point on. It was good just to have clarity one way or the other. Now I can get ready for the season.”

Rizzo didn’t tell his agents to stop talking to the Cubs about a contract. He only didn’t want his agents talking to him — in other words, don’t go back and forth with numbers, come to him when there’s a reasonable offer from the team.

Further:

“It would be foolish (not to listen) if someone comes with a nice blank check and says, ‘What do you want?’” Rizzo said. “But from my standpoint, I’m firm on just playing baseball and not worrying about any dollar figure or any number of years. I’m just focused on playing baseball. And I’ve told them I don’t even want to hear anything unless it’s as close to what we think is right. They know not to talk to me about it anymore at all.”

Now, obviously the Cubs aren’t simply going to go all Andre Dawson here and come to Rizzo with a blank contract and say “Fill in the amount!” That doesn’t happen in modern baseball, nor should it. I completely understand why Rizzo wants to focus on baseball once the season starts. He wants to shut out distractions and just play. As the acknowledged on-field leader of the Cubs, he’s got more on his mind than just his own play, too.

Which leads me to why I feel a contract extension will get done.

Rizzo has been the leader of this team since at least mid-2014, when he and Aroldis Chapman got into it on the field in Cincinnati. He is entering his 10th year in blue pinstripes, which not only makes him the longest-tenured current member of the Cubs, but puts him in a category with some of the greatest players in franchise history. If he plays his usual 150 games this year, that will be 16th-most in Cubs history. His 35.1 bWAR currently ranks 18th in franchise history and that likely goes up a couple of places this season.

A five-year extension would put Rizzo into the top 10 in those categories and probably rank him fourth all-time in home runs in Cubs history. He’d be one of the greatest players ever to play for the team — not that he isn’t already, but five more years would solidify that.

Beyond his play on the field, his leadership qualities in the clubhouse and the tireless charity work he does both for his own charities and Cubs Charities make him an invaluable part of the organization that they can ill afford to lose. And I haven’t even gotten, till now, how popular and loved he is among Cubs fans. That shows in his jersey sale ranking — last year, 13th among all MLB players.

You know all that. I know all that. Rizzo knows all that. Jed Hoyer knows all that. Tom Ricketts knows all that. Rizzo wants to stay a Cub. Hoyer likely wants Rizzo to stay a Cub. Ricketts almost certainly knows the backlash he’d feel from fans if Rizzo departed.

So in my view, the $70 million offer — if true — was intended to be the first part of a negotiation. Rizzo, in his comments Monday, was pretty much begging the Cubs to make it a better offer. The article in The Athletic made comparisons to the contract extensions Paul Goldschmidt (five years, $130 million) and DJ LeMahieu (six years, $90 million) received, while also pointing out that Rizzo would turn 33 in the first full year of an extension. There’s absolutely risk in signing an early-30s player to such a deal.

But Rizzo’s best skills are those that don’t usually decline quickly — power and on-base percentage. There’s been no perceptible decline in his defensive skill. To sign him to a five-year extension that would end with his age-37 season doesn’t appear to have that much risk involved, and Rizzo likely retires at the end of it.

Goldschmidt is a better player than Rizzo and he signed his contract at an age a year younger than Rizzo will be later this season. So any number comparable to Goldschmidt’s deal is probably too high.

A five-year, $100 million deal for Rizzo would be appropriate, I think. It would increase Rizzo’s AAV over what he’s making now, acknowledge that he’s entering his decline years, but still compensate him well.

I’d think if Rizzo’s agents could get such an offer from Jed Hoyer, Rizzo would listen, and perhaps sign. He’s gone on record as saying he wants to remain a Cub.

In the end, because all the parties involved understand how important it is for both player and team to get a deal done, it’ll get done. So hold your panic and read carefully exactly what Rizzo said Monday. This isn’t over, by any means.

Poll

Anthony Rizzo’s potential contract extension...

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    Five years, $100 million sounds good
    (1053 votes)
  • 13%
    The Cubs should go higher than that, either in years or dollars or both
    (180 votes)
  • 7%
    The Cubs should let him go to free agency
    (106 votes)
  • 2%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (41 votes)
1380 votes total Vote Now