Cubs Rumors: Atlanta Braves have done homework on Anthony Rizzo

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

There’s still a chance – albeit a slim one – of the Chicago Cubs bringing Anthony Rizzo back in free agency. A former Platinum Glove winner at first base, he’d provide a huge boost to the infield defense that took massive steps in the wrong direction in 2021 – not to mention his standing within the organization and city, at large.

We won’t know where Rizzo will call home for some time, thanks to the ongoing MLB work stoppage – but that doesn’t mean there won’t still be rumors circulating in the meantime. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required), the reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves ‘checked in’ on Rizzo last month.

It’s not hard to figure out why they did their homework on the three-time All-Star, with Braves cornerstone Freddie Freeman still out there in free agency. Most expected Atlanta to bring him back no questions asked, but without a deal in place prior to the lockout, other teams have come into the picture, including the Dodgers and Yankees.

Make no mistake. Rizzo, at this point in his career, cannot match Freeman’s production. But he’d come at a fraction of the cost and is still a better than league average presence. Despite a recent downtick in his offensive performance, he’s still put up a respectable .240/.343/.432 mark since the start of the 2020 season – good for a 109 OPS+.

Meanwhile, Freeman, the 2020 National League MVP, has been the best first baseman in the league over the last two years, slashing .311/.412/.539, bringing home a pair of Silver Sluggers and a World Series ring during that stretch. Reportedly looking for a deal somewhere in the six-year, $180 million range, Freeman and the Braves remain apart on the inclusion of that sixth year in a deal that would keep him in Atlanta through his age-38 season.

The general consensus is still that Freeman winds up back with the Braves, but should he jet off to the Big Apple or the City of Angels, Alex Anthopolous needs to have alternatives lined up. That’s where Rizzo – or someone like Oakland first baseman Matt Olson – could come in, although there would be intense backlash from fans regardless.

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Early in the offseason, reports indicated Rizzo would be lucky to get anything more than a two-year deal coming off a 2021 season he split between Chicago and New York. Given his lingering back issues, age and declining production, that’s not entirely surprising – and has only made Jed Hoyer’s five-year, $70 million extension offer from this spring look better with time.

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Free agency is at a standstill right now, but when the freeze thaws, you can expect things to happen furiously, especially if this stretches into 2022 and spring training looms by the time we’re back up and running. The first base market could stay quiet until Freeman signs – leaving Rizzo’s camp in a prime position to capitalize as the next-best option for teams vying for the longtime Braves star.