I've been complaining about the Cubs most of the day and rightfully so. There's been a lot of punches thrown this offseason but nothing landed quite like knowing the Cubs were miles apart from Rizzo at the negotiating table. We're talking close to half of what Paul Goldschmidt makes, which is arguably more disrespectful than the Red Sox offering Lester $82M that one time. Arguably.
But I don't want to have that argument right now. Instead I'd rather sharpen my mind up by trying to make sense of the chaos. So here's my very best attempt to do that because I'm that kind of guy. I'm willing to see this from the Cubs' perspective to open my mind. I'll put on Crane Kenney's hate and crunch numbers. Here's what they're probably thinking:
- Rizzo is an aging 1st baseman with back issues and he's spent the last few years a full tier below the league's other best 1st basemen. You don't want to overpay for that on paper and maybe the Cubs think his market value is a lot lower than we (regular fans) anticipate. We've seen big downward trends in free agent contracts with a simultaneous increases in player extensions to buy out arbitration. Is it possible Rizzo is essentially just caught in a newly developed blackhole for contracts? He's coming out of the expensive option years from an originally-team-friendly deal. Maybe the front office is betting that nobody wants his services nearly the way Cubs fans do.
I personally think this is stupid.
- The Cubs simply don't have the money to make the commitment. Maybe that's an option... that COVID has been monumentally worse than we all anticipated. Maybe they really don't have any money at all and they simply can't agree to a 5-year deal more than $65M. Maybe the Cubs went broke and are too reliant on the ticket-gate and operations. Maybe the Marquee Network is a flop and they all know it and they need to protect the balance sheet and that bleeds its way down to Rizzo's terms. Maybe it's just significantly more desperate and pathetic than we all realize.
The Cubs 2022 payroll is at just about $45M in guaranteed salary
- First base is an overrated position unless you're starting the top 1 or 2 guys in the league and the Cubs are willing to say Rizzo is not that guy. As a result, the Cubs are going to let Rizzo test free agency and hope he comes crawling back with open arms. I don't actually think that should happen or advocate for it, I'm just throwing ideas out there that could explain the Cubs. And in this hypothetical, they could watch Rizzo walk out the door and not look back. That means they'd end up platooning it with veterans and we'd all hate their guts no matter how productive or effective their seasons. Those shoes aren't getting filled overnight.
- What about culture? Is it possible the Cubs internally blame Rizzo for three straight seasons of September slumping? Maybe the Cubs don't see him the way we see him? I think that's a preposterous suggestion but we're here to look under rocks and see if we can figure anything out. This one's weak but I'm saying it anyways. Maybe the front office/leadership just doesn't like him?
- Is it possible that everyone involved in decision making is just stupid? Have we consider the option of systemic incompetence? Everyone thinks everyone in baseball is so smart, but it's actually a very inefficient labor market. Makes me wonder if I've been fooled this whole time into thinking everyone was smart while they were throwing darts and drinking mai tais.
- I'm running out of ideas here but one that stands out is that it makes more business sense to go cheap while the farm system is rebuilt. The worst reality would be a midrange payroll while grinding out 80-82 wins a season for the better part of a decade while the virgins from the Yu Darvish trade progress through AA. It could be a smaller part of a bigger, more sinister strategy to be average to offset the last year of the pandemic. In this case you're not really obligated to keep the core around because that could make it harder to move on to the future. Honestly the thought of this makes me want to bury my head in lava.
None of these worked. You're still mad.
I know. I don't get it. I'm trying as hard as I can to understand why you wouldn't figure out a deal with Rizzo for five years. I just simply don't understand not having the money for THAT guy. Of all the guys, that would be the guy. And not just for his accomplishments, I sincerely mean that he would be a phenomenal investment. Again.
There's going to be loads of new faces in the organization over the next 5 years. The whole thing will be turned around again and you have a chance to bridge the gap with leaders from the original core. It would make sense to start with Rizzo to stabilize the order and build around his leadership and presence. But you can't do that if you're insulting him with low ball offers.
So now we're going into a contract year with no extensions and no answers for three of the most important Cubs of my life. If it seems like a big deal, it's because it is a big deal.
Probably just my fault for setting expectations so high. I thought we were better than this.