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Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo’s contract key to long-term success

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Record wise, the Chicago Cubs are the best team in Major League Baseball right now. As we approach September baseball, the Cubs are the only team that is over the 80 win mark and are set to flirt with a potential 100 win season. Their team is loaded with talent, both offensively and regarding pitching.

With the bats, 24-year-old third baseman Kris Bryant and 27-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo are the team’s powerhouses. Both men are tearing the cover off the ball this season, as both are hitting right around .300 with at least 25 home runs each. Both men are virtual locks to reach 100 runs batted in as well.

They are also surrounded by a ton of other great young hitters. Shortstop Addison Russell is having a career year, living up to the former top prospect billing he had while with the Oakland Athletics. Promising young catcher Willson Contreras has shown some flashes with the bat in the 200 at bats he has been given. Jorge Soler has yet to reach his full potential, but certainly, has the talent to be a difference-maker. Plus all of this success has come with this past off-season’s big free agent acquisition, Jason Heyward having a down season.

On the pitching side of the things, Jake Arrieta is proving he is no fluke, as he puts together another solid campaign. He has a sub 3.00 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning. He is paired with fellow ace Jon Lester, who can make those same claims as well. 26-year-old Kyle Hendricks is pitching to the potential the Cubs knew he had, keeping runners off base and possessing the best ERA among the starters. In the bullpen, trade deadline acquisition Aroldis Chapman is blowing people away, and raking up the saves.

This is a young team that is not only build to win right now in 2016 but for seasons to come. They are putting together this fantastic season without the power hitting bat of 23-year-old Kyle Schwarber. They have young talent at virtually every position, and the future looks extremely bright on the North side of Chicago. But with all of this young talent will come some difficult decisions shortly when it comes to handing out new contracts. But some of that burden was eased back on May 13th, 2013.

What happened on that day you ask? Well, that was the day Anthony Rizzo signed a seven-year, 41 million dollar extension with the club when Rizzo was still fairly new to the organization. But looking back at that deal, it is an absolute steal for the Cubs organization.

Rizzo is clearly one of the leaders of this team. While only 27, he is one of the longest tenured members of the roster, and the elder among the players who look to have a long-term role with the team. He is a role model for the younger players and a player who knows how to play the game right and have fun. Oh, and he is pretty darn good on the field too, hitting homers and driving in runs as he enters the prime of his career.

The next two seasons, Rizzo will make just over seven million, and in 2019, just over 11 million. After those three seasons, he will have two club options valued at 14.5 million dollars a piece. To show you how much of a bargain that is, Heyward was given a contract this offseason that pays him anywhere from 22 to 24 million dollars a season. This past off-season’s major first baseman, 30-year-old Chris Davis, was given a seven-year deal that pays him 23 million a season as well.

This just goes to show Rizzo is playing on one of the most team-friendly deals in MLB today, and that is going to be the key to the Cubs long term success. Not only do the Cubs have Rizzo and his tremendous on the field stats for five more seasons at a highly discounted rate, but they have the extra financial flexibility to play with thanks to it.

As things stand right now, Rizzo is one of three major commitments in the long term plans for the franchise. The other two would be Heyward and Lester, who are both have at least four more guaranteed years left on their deals. That leaves plenty of talented young players without a long-term deal, and that is going to change soon.

Jake Arrieta has one more year of arbitration left before he hits free agency. If the team were to re-sign him, it will cost a pretty penny, as he could hold multiple Cy Young Awards by the time he tests the open market. He will be in his low 30’s when he hits the market, but teams have shown that will not scare them away from paying to win now. While giving a hefty deal to someone who is above 30, Rizzo’s deal will give the club the chance to do just that.

The teams offensive superstars who are going to get paid include the likes of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. The Cubs still have control over both men for five seasons, but with each passing season, that price tag is going to rise if they continue to show the promise they are this season. Bryant, in particular, could become costly, really quickly.

The Cubs could decide to play the slow game, and take it year by year with both men. Or they could look to lock up both players as soon as possible. The long-term extension would make a ton of sense in this situation. If the club decides to buy out the arbitration years for both men, it will lock in Bryant, Russell, and Rizzo all through the 2021 season. And because of Rizzo’s deal, the Cubs are in a position to offer up more money on a yearly basis to the other promising young hitters, which should make the process of making a deal easier on both sides.

Then you factor in all of the other promising young talents on the roster. Names like Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks could all be potential pieces to become core members of this team. All of them could become extension candidates, and the Cubs just need to decide which they want to build truly around.

Also, let’s not forget the Aroldis  Chapman situation. The lock-down closer is set to enter free agency this off-season, and the Cubs will face a difficult decision. If the team feels he is a guy to build around, they should have no issues offering the type of money needed to retain his services.

At the end of the day, the Rizzo deal allows the team the flexibility to pursue and sign the guys they feel are the right pieces to move forward with toward success. They started that process with the signings of Jon Lester and Jason Heyward the last few seasons. Moving forward, it should be more about retaining and locking up the key pieces already on the team.

The Cubs are poised to become the next dynasty of MLB if they play their cards right. And if the Cubs happen to go on a run the next few seasons, they can look back on May 13th, 2013 as the day it all began.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com