Almost 11 months ago, the cameras focused on what the Cubs hoped would be a new face of the franchise. No one knew for certain when Anthony Rizzo arrived at Wrigley Field and answered the question this way: “I’m here to stay.”
Inside the same cramped interview room/dungeon, the Cubs held another press conference on Monday, this time announcing a seven-year, $41 million contract for a core player they’re building around. It includes club options for 2020 and 2021, through the stadium renovation that’s supposed to be a game-changer.
Rizzo looked more like a mogul, with his hair slicked back and the collar to his white dress shirt wide open. The total value of the deal could be worth $68 million if the Cubs use those options, and potentially rise as high as $73 million if he plays at an MVP level and hits all his performance bonuses.
[Video: Hoyer explains Cubs side of Rizzo deal]
Since that overhyped promotion from Triple-A Iowa on June 26 last year, Rizzo has hit .283 with 24 homers and 76 RBIs in 124 games and shown Gold Glove potential at first base. Unique relationships drove the negotiations that began around the final two weeks of spring training, went into Opening Day timeout and ramped back up again about 10 days ago.
Team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player development chief Jason McLeod knew Rizzo as a high school kid in South Florida, choosing him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft for the Boston Red Sox and later packaging him in the Adrian Gonzalez deal with the San Diego Padres.
Rizzo appreciated how they helped him through his battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, giving him access to world-class doctors and setting him up at Massachusetts General Hospital. It boosted his confidence when they traded for him in January 2012 after a failed audition in San Diego.
“The front office here has basically seen me grow up. They’ve been watching me since I was 17,” Rizzo said. “Last year at this time I was in Triple-A, wondering when that call was going to come.
“Five years ago, I was in a hospital waiting on my first treatment of cancer. It’s crazy how everything has come full circle. I’m just so grateful.”
That experience informed Rizzo’s decision. As a “Super Two” player, he could have used the arbitration system four times and chased more dollars, while risking lifetime financial security and generational wealth.
Here’s how Rizzo’s deal breaks down: $2 million signing bonus; $750,000 in 2013; $1.25 million in 2014; $5 million in 2015 and 2016; $7 million in 2017 and 2018; $11 million in 2019; and two separate $14.5 million club options through 2021.
“Some guys like to go year-to-year and take that chance,” Rizzo said. “I’ve experienced it first-hand – I’ve had this game taken away from me. I don’t like to ever play that sorrow story, but not being able to play the game has made me appreciate it a lot more.”
The contract will carry Rizzo through at least the rest of his 20s, with Epstein and Hoyer buying out prime years. If the team picks up those options, it would take Rizzo to age 32, covering his second and third free-agent seasons.
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All this projects that Rizzo stays healthy and productive, but Cubs executives are clearly comfortable with the investment, feeling like he’s mature beyond his years, a middle-of-the-order force, a plus defender and a glue guy in the clubhouse.
“Ultimately, you want to build your team around people you trust,” Hoyer said. “We believe in Anthony. We think he’s going to be a very big part of our future here in Chicago.”
The front office sees Rizzo as a foundation piece at Clark and Addison, alongside All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija and a generation of prospects that includes Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.
“There’s nothing an organization wants more than to build a core,” Hoyer said, “and know those are the players that the fans can expect to see every year. You want a group of players to grow up together and learn to trust each other and learn how to win together.”
Three weeks ago, manager Dale Sveum called out his young players, refusing to rule out the idea that Rizzo and Castro could be sent to Iowa. Though Rizzo said he felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, all this came during a month in which he set a franchise record for a left-handed hitter with eight April home runs.
It turned out to be more of a coincidence that Rizzo’s family, Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts were all in Washington at Nationals Park over the weekend.
“They were coming to D.C. no matter what,” Rizzo said. “They’re actually a little mad that I had to stay back on (Thursday’s) off-day and get the physical. We were supposed to have a whole day in D.C. together.
“They understood…I got a great Mother’s Day present for her.”