This could be the beginning of the end.
Longtime Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has informed his agents to stop talking to him about a contract, all but ensuring he’ll head into Opening Day without a new deal. That opens the door to all kinds of possibilities – very few of which will bring any semblance of joy to fans.
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Jed Hoyer kicked off spring training saying he was planning on talking about contract extensions with his trio of superstars including Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. To this point, we’ve heard absolutely nothing on Bryant and Baez, leading us all to think Rizzo was the likeliest extension candidate.
Now, barring a dramatic about-face that would close a gap that’s reported to be tens of millions of dollars, Rizzo will hit free agency at the end of the 2021 season. When asked about potentially playing elsewhere beyond this year, the three-time All-Star had this to say:
"“It’s not something I really think of right now. The only thing that really pops in my mind is, one of my biggest mentors and one of my best friends is Jon Lester, who’s had legacies at two different historic franchises.”"
Of course, Lester is still a sore point with Cubs fans, who watched him leave Chicago for D.C., even after offering to return to Chicago for ‘just about anything’. While Lester left an indelible mark on the North Side, losing him pales in comparison to what it would be like to watch Rizzo leave the Cubs at season’s end.
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo is more than the numbers on his baseball card
Last season, like plenty of other players, Rizzo really struggled at the dish, batting just .222/.342/.414 but still finishing the season with a 103 wRC+. He brought home his third consecutive Gold Glove, though, and seems like a good bet to bounce back in 2021.
But at age 31, a lengthy extension is far from a sure thing. In other words, a corner infielder who has a history of back issues flaring up might not make the most sense on a long-term deal. That is, if you’re strictly basing the value of the deal on his on-field performance.
With Rizzo, though, his impact extends so far beyond what the box score shows. He’s a critical part of the community and is arguably the single-most important presence in that clubhouse. Despite all this, though, it looks like he could be heading into his final year with the Cubs.
Boy, this is one of those times I’d gladly be wrong.