Cubs sign Anthony Rizzo to 7-year, $41-million contract extension
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 12, 2013 9:38PM
Updated: May 12, 2013 11:14PM
WASHINGTON — After spending much of the weekend talking about the rise of the Washington Nationals as a role model for their own rebuilding process, the Cubs showed an even more aggressive approach than the Nats took.
Sources confirmed Sunday night that the team reached an agreement with first baseman Anthony Rizzo on a seven-year, $41 million contract extension, plus two option years that could bring the total value to around $70 million.
The deal comes only nine months after the club signed All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro to a seven-year, $60 million extension. It also underscores the different landscape in acquiring and locking up players that has emerged since the Nationals went from worst to first in a three-year span.
It’s a rare commitment for a player with the service time of the power-hitting Rizzo, who has yet to play a full season in the big leagues.
It’s also a potential bargain if the Cubs are right about a player who, less than a month ago, was called out by manager Dale Sveum as being a candidate for demotion to the minors.
“I don’t think [anyone’s] invincible if you’re not performing,” Sveum said April 21 when asked about the status and recent mistakes of Castro and Rizzo. “It’s not about what we think can happen three or four years from now. It’s time to perform on a consistent basis.”
Rizzo was hitting .210 at the time with more strikeouts (18) than hits (13). Even after going hitless in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory Sunday against the Nationals, he’s up to .280 and leads the team with nine home runs and 28 RBI. He has an .890 OPS.
“He’s just getting more comfortable,” Sveum said in the days leading up to the new contract.
Still in desperate search for the long-term pitching depth that’s expected to signal the competitive turnaround for a club working on its fourth consecutive losing season, the Cubs at least have seemed to secure a position-player base that also includes top prospect Javy Baez, a power-hitting infielder, and catcher Welington Castillo.
Second baseman Darwin Barney and outfield prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora also are expected to be part of the core if the Cubs can find enough pitching depth to compete in the next two or three years.
The Cubs have targeted Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija for a contract extension, though Samardzija was reluctant to give a hometown discount. The long-term deals for Castro and Rizzo could pave the way for renewed and possibly more substantive talks with Samardzija before next season.
Meanwhile, here are the two biggest keys in the Cubs’ process:
First, they absolutely must hit with the No. 2 pick in the draft June 6. Barring a health or performance setback, the Cubs plan to take the college pitcher the Houston Astros don’t — Stanford’s Mark Appel or Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray. If that player doesn’t become an important part of the starting rotation quickly, it could delay the Cubs’ timeline by a year or more.
Second, get used to the July roster blowup. That’s one of the few tools available to acquire young talent in any quantity.
It makes starts like Scott Feldman’s on Sunday important. He threw six strong innings in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory over the Nationals, and he could bring value at the trade deadline with more of the same. That also goes for newly named closer Kevin Gregg, who earned his sixth save in as many chances with a 1-2-3 ninth.
“We don’t want to be a seller. That’s not a position you want to be in,” Hoyer said. “But if you are in that position, you have to take advantage of it.”