The Cubs have so much invested in the idea of Anthony Rizzo.
It’s not just the $41 million guarantee. It drills down to the credibility of Theo Epstein’s front office. It shines a light on the franchise’s financial handcuffs, because someone had to be The Man right away and hit in the middle of the order. Maybe that’s why Jose Abreu’s fast start struck such a nerve on Twitter and with Cubs fans.
“I tip my cap to the White Sox for making a good investment,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That’s great for them. He should be a guy in Chicago that people have fun watching for a long time.”
Whether or not Rizzo will ultimately be the other first baseman in town – or a leader for a contending team on the North Side – he delivered in Thursday’s 12-5 victory over the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. On a night where the city finally warmed up to 83 degrees, Rizzo blasted a two-run homer over the center-field wall that traveled 407 feet, helping his team avoid the crosstown sweep in front of 26,332.
Remember Rizzo’s the guy who was supposed to be part of The Core at Fenway Park, and then replace Adrian Gonzalez, and then got all the comparisons to Andrew Cashner.
“It’s just always going to be something,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo shrugged, but he hadn’t paid attention to any of the Abreu talk or the Cubs (12-21) vs. White Sox (18-18) rebuilding debates. That’s not how he rolls.
Sports Illustrated splashed Abreu’s image on a regional cover and the No. 79 jerseys are moving fast. The White Sox won the kind of bidding war the Cubs have lost for prized international free agents like Yoenis Cespedes, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Masahiro Tanaka. It took the biggest deal in franchise history – six years and $68 million – to bring the Cuban first baseman to the South Side.
“They gave him a very good contract,” Hoyer said. “He’s performed – I don’t know what their expectations were – but certainly at or above their expectations. He looks like a really good slugger.”
Hoyer worked for the Boston Red Sox when they drafted Rizzo and made sure to include the young first baseman when he traded Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres. The other Rizzo trade will look different if Cashner stays healthy, throws 200-plus innings and gets in the Cy Young conversation.
But after a down season and the Dale Sveum firing, the Cubs feel better about Rizzo, who at the age of 24 is hitting .294 with seven homers, 18 RBI and a .926 OPS.
“We have Anthony Rizzo,” Hoyer said. “We committed money (to a player) we feel really good about, someone who is demonstrating why we feel (that way). In our situation, in the National League with a young, left-handed-hitting first baseman, (Abreu) wasn’t a player we were interested in. Had there been a player with his profile that played outfield or maybe played a different position, we would have been involved as well.”