Commentary

Young stars driving Cubs' plans

Anthony Rizzo's long-term deal is a win for both the player and the team

Updated: May 13, 2013, 9:51 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- After Starlin Castro signed his "young money" deal last year, he went out and bought a $250,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost.

Even Alfonso Soriano, who collects luxury automobiles like a beachcomber collects sea shells, told his protege that was a youthful mistake.

"I didn't agree with Starlin, but he's different," Soriano said Monday in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse. "I talked to him and said it's better to save money and not have a nice car, and then buy a nice car when you have money in the bank."

So Soriano's advice to Anthony Rizzo, who just signed a seven-year deal that guarantees him $41 million, is simple: Don't buy the Rolls just yet. Wait until you're old and rich like him.

"He's smart and he knows it's more important to save money, because nothing is guaranteed in this life," Soriano said. "A baseball career is not too long. A lot of people retire at 35 or 40 years old and they want to live another 35 years and they don't work anymore. So they have to save money for the future."

The Cubs certainly followed Soriano's sound financial advice, saving money later by giving up a little more now. And Rizzo and Castro each gave up some money in the future to get paid in the present. It's the way of the world in baseball and it's truly a win-win. Given that the Cubs are the Cubs, two wins are pretty valuable no matter how you get them. So fly that W flag, Theo Epstein!

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports Anthony Rizzo has hit nine homers for the Cubs this season.

Rizzo and Castro are the building blocks for that future of "sustained success" the Cubs like to talk about, and they're both signed through 2019 for a minimum of $101 million -- a bargain by baseball standards. Both players have options after that year, which could be when the Cubs' new cable money kicks in.

This is how it works in baseball now: lock up your talented players early, buy out their arbitration, and gamble that their production will make this deal club-friendly in the coming years. It makes sense as the teams pay for performance, not history.

This isn't Andy McPhail's Cubs anymore. Neither player got a no-trade clause. This isn't Jim Hendry's Cubs, either.

"We get some cost certainty in the deal," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We got between one and three years of longer control of Anthony, and he gets a lot of security in the deal. It's a great matchup for both sides."

Rizzo -- the first bold stroke of the new regime, which traded Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres for him last January -- has great promise, even with just 173 games in the majors.

Drafted by Epstein and Hoyer in Boston, Rizzo lived up to his hype last season (.285, 15 homers, 48 RBIs in 87 games) after coming up on June 26. He came into Monday's game with a slash line of .280/.352/.538, nine homers and 28 RBIs. He's a left-handed power-hitting first baseman, and you have to pay big bucks to get those on the open market.

Last year at this time, Rizzo was just a myth to Cubs fans; the Roy Hobbs of Triple-A Iowa. Every day there were new updates to his exploits as he put up crooked numbers in the Pacific Coast League while the big league club sputtered.

Rizzo, who turns 24 in August, had to stay in the minors until late June to delay arbitration, but as it turned out, the Cubs bought out his arbitration years with a contract extension that includes two option years. Rizzo isn't thinking about the money he could be losing in 2018.

"Last year at this time, I was in Triple-A wondering when that call was going to come," he said. "Five years ago at this time, I was in a hospital waiting on my first treatment for cancer. It's crazy how everything has come full circle."

Rizzo went through six months of chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma during his first year of professional ball, when he was just 18. He doesn't harp on the inspirational story of his life, but he admits he gained perspective from that scare.

"Some guys like to go year-to-year and take that chance," he said. "I've experienced it firsthand. 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."

Watching the lousy baseball, and subpar baseball players, of the past four years should make Cubs fans appreciate Rizzo, too. Now Chicago needs to surround him with better talent.

The Cubs will have more money to spend next winter, but thanks to deals like this one, there will be fewer impact players on the free-agent market, and very few with their best years ahead of them. The Cubs' ballyhooed minor league stars aren't close to coming up. And no one knows how much money Tom Ricketts will let the front office spend until he gets his scoreboard riches.

Simply put, there is no guarantee the Cubs will be competitive any time in the future. That means there will be even more pressure for Rizzo and Castro to produce.

Fine by Hoyer and Epstein, who want to see this organization grow from within.

"You want a group of players to grow up together and learn to trust each other, learn how to win together," Hoyer said. "I do think winning is contagious, and once a team learns to win together as a group, I think that can build on top of itself. I think with Starlin and now with Anthony, our goal is to build that kind of group and have that group together for a long time. Anthony, we think he can hit in the middle of the lineup for us for a long time."

The easygoing Rizzo said he won't change now that he's got money, and he's not talking about his choice of cars.

"I think I'm going to go and be myself," he said. "My definition of being a leader is just going out and playing hard, doing the right things, being a good teammate and getting along with everyone. If you get along with everyone, everyone respects you when you do say something."

Rizzo showed up to the Wrigley Field press conference in a white dress shirt unbuttoned at the top, a gold chain, slacks and his curly hair gelled back. He looked like a junior investment banker ready to party after the market closed.

That makes sense. Shares of Anthony Rizzo Inc. are going way up.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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