Cubs Have Reportedly Considered Pursuit Of Anthony Rizzo In Free Agency

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The Cubs have had internal discussions about making a run at Anthony Rizzo in free agency, reports Bruce Levine of 670 The Score. Chicago is obviously barred from having contact with Rizzo or his representatives at Sports One Athlete Management during the lockout, but Levine suggests they could put forth a contract offer whenever the transactions freeze is lifted.

The Cubs’ previous efforts at locking Rizzo up for the long term obviously didn’t result in an agreement. During last year’s Spring Training, Chicago made a reported five-year, $70MM offer that the star first baseman turned down. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer expressed optimism at the time the parties would work something out during the regular season, but a mutually agreeable price point never presented itself.

The North Siders reportedly made a renewed effort at extension talks with both Rizzo and Javier Báez in July, but neither signed and both impending free agents were ultimately shipped off in advance of the July 30 trade deadline. Rizzo landed in the Bronx, with the Yankees sending prospects Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Vizcaino to the Cubs in return. The three-time All-Star spent the final few months of the year with the Yankees before hitting the open market for the first time in his career.

Given that extension discussions between the Cubs and Rizzo’s reps didn’t get across the finish line, a return to Chicago may seem far-fetched. Yet it’s possible Rizzo doesn’t find the kind of contract he apparently sought, at least during last March’s round of talks. Entering the offseason, MLBTR projected he’d receive a three-year, $45MM guarantee, $25MM and two years south of the extension offer he reportedly declined during Spring Training.

That dip in likely earning power reflects both Rizzo’s age (32) and downturn in production over the past two years. After posting a .222/.342/.414 mark during the shortened 2020 season, the lefty hitter put up a .248/.344/.440 line with 22 home runs over 576 plate appearances in 2021. That’s solid production — 12 percentage points above the league average, by measure of wRC+. Yet it falls short of the elite offense he brought during his 2014-19 peak, when he combined for a .284/.388/.513 showing that was 41 points above the league average output (141 wRC+).

Rizzo’s batted ball metrics offer mixed signals on his chances of rediscovering his middle-of-the-order form. On the plus side, last season’s 90.1 MPH average exit velocity matched his personal high, while his 41.1% hard contact rate was a career best. His bat speed still seems intact, but Rizzo has gotten increasingly pull-oriented of late. In each of the past two seasons, he’s hit more than 47% of his batted balls to the right side of the diamond — the two highest single-season marks of his career. Defenses have responded by shifting against him more than ever. Paired with an uptick in pop-ups, that’s contributed to a meager .246 batting average on balls in plays since the start of 2020; during his aforementioned six-year peak, Rizzo sported a much better .295 BABIP.

While the Florida native may no longer be the star he was at his peak, that’s not to say there’s no appeal for possible suitors. In addition to his still-strong exit velocities, Rizzo owns excellent bat-to-ball skills. The former Silver Slugger punched out in just 15.1% of his plate appearances last season. That’s right in line with his career mark and more than seven points lower than last year’s league average. Rizzo also consistently draws a fair amount of walks and while he’s limited to first base, he still rates highly as a defender there. The Cubs are also no doubt familiar with his generally well-regarded clubhouse presence, and he was among the faces of the most successful run of play in more than a century of franchise history.

After trading away many of the most recognizable stars of that run, the Cubs were expected by most to be in for a quiet offseason. Hoyer consistently denied they were embarking on a full rebuild, though, and they’ve already signed Marcus Stroman and Yan Gomes and claimed Wade Miley off waivers from the Reds. The roster still looks short of contention, but reuniting with Rizzo would be a welcome development for much of the fanbase and upgrade an overall lineup that looks lacking. While they’ve already been more active than many anticipated, the Cubs should have financial flexibility to explore further additions. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource projects Chicago’s 2022 player payroll in the $114MM range. It seems unlikely they’ll jump to the $200+MM heights of the franchise’s record expenditures, but there’s plenty of room even before last season’s estimated $147MM season-opening level.

The Cubs would surely like to get another look at Frank Schwindel to see if his excellent showing as a 29-year-old rookie (.326/.371/.591 in 259 plate appearances) is the start of a late-career breakout. It’s widely expected the next collective bargaining agreement will include a universal designated hitter, though, likely leaving at-bats for both Schwindel and a possible outside addition to the first base/DH mix.

None of that is to say that the Cubs signing Rizzo is inevitable, or even especially likely. Front offices discuss possible moves that don’t ultimately come to fruition on a regular basis. And while reported interest in Rizzo has been fairly quiet this offseason, a couple more potential suitors have emerged.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman expressed a desire to keep the 32-year-old in the fold back in November. With Freddie Freeman still unsigned, the Braves have looked into the possibility of pivoting to Rizzo. Freeman signing and a Matt Olson trade may be the catalysts necessary kickstart the respective free agent and trade markets for first basemen, which have yet to get going in earnest. Whenever that happens, perhaps the Cubs will embark on another effort to have Rizzo on the North Side for 2022 and beyond.

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