Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo Extension Shows How Gap Is Closing Between Rays and Rest of MLB

By Robbie Knopf

The problem with innovating is that you have to keep doing it or everyone else is going to catch up. In regard to extending players early n their careers, that has already begun to take place.

The Cubs hope to progress from rebuilding to contending in just the next few years. A crucial part of making sure that contention period lasts as long as period is making sure cornerstone players are locked up for the future, and right in the middle of that for the Cubs was going to be first baseman Anthony Rizzo. The last two seasons in a Cubs uniform, Rizzo, 23, hasn’t quite lit up the baseball world but has still thoroughly impressed, managing a .283/.345/.485 line (123 OPS+) with 25 doubles, 24 homers, and 76 RBI in 527 plate appearances. With that being the case, the Cubs were going to have two options as they looked to extend Rizzo: the wait-and-see approach or the more aggressive early-career tactic.

Conventional baseball wisdom would tell you to let Rizzo play out a few more years and prove that he really will be a star first baseman for the long-term before you extend him. The Tampa Bay Rays, though, have taught baseball that if you take on some more risk and extend a talented player while his career is just starting, the potential reward is unbelievable, having an excellent player in your uniform for years to come making a salary a fraction of what he’s worth. Each player is different and it may be a long time before anyone goes all-in on the aggressive approach like the Rays. However, especially when a team knows that they have a special player, it has been surprising that so few times have been willing to show some faith in their guys, instead paying them exponentially more money a couple years down the line. In this instance, though, the Cubs did exactly that, signing Rizzo to a 7-year, 41 million dollar contract. They demonstrated their belief in Rizzo’s ability to be a pivotal piece of their franchise for the foreseeable future and their confidence that he was worth securing early even with all the risk involved.

The Cubs aren’t a team with the financial limitations of the Rays. If they had not locked up Rizzo now, they easily could have in two years, even if it took double the money that he’s receiving in his new contract. They’re not signing Rizzo out of necessity but only because it’s the smart move financially and baseball-wise as well–it will certainly help team morale knowing that there is never going to be a controversy about Rizzo’s future in the Chicago’s North Side. The Cubs are showing how MLB teams aren’t just innovating because they have to anymore. If ain’t broke, don’t fix it is no longer the guiding philosophy. When teams get opportunities to run their ballclub better, they are slowly but surely beginning to take them. The Cubs are just jumping on the bandwagon with this early extension for Rizzo, but it takes courage to jump on when there are so few people there. Before the Rays know it, their ingenuity will become common knowledge, and prior to that happening, they need to continue to find ways to get the edge they need to keep succeeding with their budgetary constraints in place. Nice job by the Cubs grasping the obvious reality that teams across baseball still want to deny for five more minutes, and for the Rays, it serves as a wake-up call knowing that other teams are beginning to see the light.