Cubs execs like what they've seen in Rizzo

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
7:26
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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All along, the mantra from Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has been to get players who are young, athletic, and left-handed.

With Friday’s trade for first baseman Anthony Rizzo, they appear to have gone back to the future on a player that both of them have admired for five years.

The Rizzo connection runs deep for all of the Cubs’ top execs. Vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod drafted Rizzo in the sixth round of the 2007 draft when he, Epstein and Hoyer were all working for the Boston Red Sox.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesAnthony Rizzo had a terrific 2011 season at Triple-A, but struggled when brought up to the Padres.
After Hoyer and McLeod took over the San Diego Padres management team in 2010, they were able to orchestrate a trade with Epstein that brought Rizzo and other prospects to San Diego for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

If you’re not confused yet, now you will be. Hoyer and McLeod each signed Rizzo once. They now have traded for him twice in two years. Epstein signed Rizzo once, traded him once and now has traded for him.

I guess all of that goes to say that they are intrigued by the 22-year-old Rizzo. They believe he will be an impact player and should be a starting first baseman in the major leagues no later than 2013.

“He has fantastic makeup,” Hoyer said. “After beating cancer when he was 19 years old, he’s a very strong individual. In San Diego I got to know him better than I did in Boston. He makes a big impression on his teammates and he’s an incredibly hard worker. He’s a leader that can put our organization, our team on the right path as far as our culture. He’s a very impressive individual.”

The trading of Andrew Cashner for Rizzo brings some finality to the Prince Fielder rumors and puts the superstar free agent in the Cubs’ rear view mirror.

Hoyer stated that Rizzo will start the 2012 campaign in Triple-A Iowa. But the Cubs GM left a tiny opening for Rizzo to possibly break camp with the team if he has a great spring training.

“I’m never going to say never,” Hoyer said. “But that’s not the plan we are going into spring training with. In general, I think winning jobs in spring training is a very dangerous thing. That’s especially true with hitters in Arizona. The ball really flies there. A lot of hitters look good. A lot of things can deceive you in Arizona. The plan is that Bryan LaHair will be our first baseman and that Anthony will be in Iowa.”

Rizzo struggled at the major league level last year after dominating Triple-A pitching. Hoyer assumed responsibility for Rizzo’s initial failure.

“We called him up because we weren’t getting any first base production in San Diego,” Hoyer said. “It was too early and a mistake on my part. So I didn’t do Anthony any favors there.”

As for Cashner, it appears he’ll most likely be the primary set-up man for Padres closer Huston Street. Cashner’s shoulder injury after his first major league start on April 5, 2011 was basically the end of his season last year. During a rehab session on May 16, he re-injured his strained rotator cuff and didn’t pitch again until September, when he came out of the bullpen in the last month of the season.

Cashner, a No. 1 pick by the Cubs out of Texas Christian in 2008, pitched in the Arizona Fall League in October and November strictly out of the bullpen.

Hoyer also said that the team still hopes to re-sign free agent Kerry Wood and it appears that right-hander Jeff Samardzija may have to stay in the bullpen rather than get an opportunity to switch to the rotation.

Hoyer said on Friday that he expects more moves in relation to the pitching staff.

“When I see what happened in the rotation in 2011, the injuries to Cashner and [Randy] Wells set the season on the wrong path because there wasn’t enough depth in the minor leagues. We have worked hard and will continue to work hard on adding even more pitching acquisitions so we can go seven, eight and nine deep and that we feel we can replenish the bullpen as well.”

The Cubs are still trying to figure out if they are going to trade starter Matt Garza. The team also has had continuous conversations with the agent for free-agent left-hander Paul Maholm over the past five weeks.

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Anthony Rizzo
BA HR RBI R
.286 25 59 72
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 59
RA. Rizzo 72
OPSA. Rizzo .910
WJ. Hammel 8
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOT. Wood 108