One of the biggest criticisms of the Theo Epstein regime will always be its inability to lock up core players via contract extensions.
Epstein departed last fall, handing the reins to his right-hand man Jed Hoyer, who immediately took to putting his mark on a roster that’s largely remained the same for years – to varying results. He traded Yu Darvish for Zach Davies and a package of young prospects and lost key members of the 2016 Chicago Cubs, including Jon Lester, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber.
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The cherry on top has been incessant trade rumors swirling around Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras, both of whom were once (and to some, still are) viewed as key cornerstone players for the franchise.
But what’s notable is the lack of rumors we’ve heard involving Anthony Rizzo or Javier Baez. Neither has been seriously tied to any team in reports this winter, which is remarkable given Chicago’s clear willingness to deal key pieces.
That makes more sense after reading Gordon Wittenmyer’s piece from earlier this week, which details the team’s plan of reaching out to both player’s camps this spring in an attempt to hammer out extensions.
"“I think spring has always been a great time to have those discussions,” said Hoyer. “Some guys don’t like it to bleed into the last couple weeks, and some guys are willing to have those discussions [beyond that]. But we’ll certainly have those discussions in spring.”"
We’ve seen the Cubs pull of springtime magic before. Just two years ago, in late March, Chicago announced its four-year extension with right-hander Kyle Hendricks. But apart from that, it’s been largely quiet on the extension front for some time.
Cubs ownership, players will negotiate in an uncertain environment
Now, this spring will be anything but typical. COVID-19 continues to impact virtually every aspect of life, both on and off the field. Financial projections for owners are uncertain, to put it mildly, and there’s just as much in flux on the players’ side of the equation with a new CBA set to take effect next year.
Guys like Baez, who are coming off pretty subpar showings in 2020, could look to gain some long-term financial stability. Meanwhile, Rizzo, who’s played his entire Cubs career on an incredibly team-friendly deal might feel like he’s due a raise – which will no doubt lead to some tough discussions among Hoyer’s staff as the first baseman turns 32 this summer.
This will be the biggest storyline to watch in Cubs camp this spring. Of course, there are plenty of new faces heading to Arizona for the first time, but a failure to extend Baez and/or Rizzo could cast a looming shadow over the season right out of the gate.