Will Theo Epstein’s long-term commitment to Anthony Rizzo pay off?
When Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox after the 2011 season, the Boston Globe conducted an online survey. They asked what Theo Epstein’s best and worst free-agent signings were in his years with the Red Sox. And the results, when it came to what the best move was, were predictable and astounding at the same time.
Nearly 90% of the respondents identified David Ortiz as the best free-agent move Theo Epstein made. It and the trade that moved Nomar Garciaparra out of Boston were clearly the signature moves of his tenure. Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling were already in place, but Big Papi was the linchpin of the team that gave Boston the championship at long last. A big bat to hit behind Manny was exactly what the Red Sox needed, and Theo went out and acquired it.
Now that Theo Epstein and his team have set up shop in Chicago, he’s being expected to bring the World Series mojo to baseball’s other cathedral/ballpark. So far, the results on the field haven’t been good. There were over 100 losses last year, and the possibility of another 100 losses this season can’t be ruled out. So, the Cubs are looking to the future, because there’s no sense in dwelling on the present very much.
By committing to Anthony Rizzo for seven years and $41 million dollars, the Cubs are taking a risk, no question about it. As good as his numbers were last year, there’s still a body of work that’s just shy of 700 plate appearances. By contrast, David Ortiz had six years of service and more than 1,600 plate appearances for Minnesota before he signed with the Red Sox in early 2003. He was a much more well-known quantity than Rizzo is now.
Comparing a 23-year-old Rizzo to the 27-year-old Ortiz who signed with Boston isn’t exactly fair. I acknowledge that here and now. But at the same time, the Cubs have set down a large financial marker this week, on the heels of the Starlin Castro deal that was signed last year.
The Cubs have apparently reasoned that signing these players now, before their arbitration years kick in, will allow them to extend their control of the players for less money than it would otherwise cost later in their respective careers. And, interestingly, neither player is thought to have a no-trade clause in his contract, which further increases the team’s control over these players. It’s an interesting approach to building from within, which the Cubs have never tried to do in all the years I’ve been following them.
The last piece I wrote here took the Cubs to task for using of “Committed” as a marketing slogan this year. Committing large sums of money to their own young players hasn’t been tried since the Cubs signed Carlos Zambrano to a five-year deal back in 2007. And in case you missed it, that one didn’t end well. So, there’s bound to be trepidation when the Cubs make this type of a commitment to one of their own.
Time will tell whether the Rizzo signing pays off with Ortiz-like dividends. I’d be thrilled if I can make a valid comparison between the two in a few years. But for now, I’ll applaud the Cubs for ponying up the dough to extend Castro and Rizzo. And I’ll even appreciate the strange rhyme in that last sentence. Anything to see a winner on the field, at long last.