The Cubs have already traded Joc Pederson to the Braves and are expected to continue selling veteran players in the two weeks leading up to the deadline, but they will first make a final effort to hammer out contract extensions with shortstops. Javier Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, reports MLB Networks Jon Heyman (via Twitter).
Both Rizzo and Baez have been considered Cubs expansion candidates for the past many years, but neither of them has drawn up an agreement to stay in Chicago beyond the 2021 campaign. Rizzo is playing the second of two option seasons that were included in his original seven-year $ 41MM contract with the club.
Chicago surprisingly picked up both of these club opportunities, and Rizzo earns a total of $ 75MM over a nine-year period. The Cubs reportedly offered Rizzo a five-year $ 70MM contract extension back in Spring Training – approx. $ 60MM less than the Cardinals guaranteed Paul Goldschmidt for the same part of his career.
As for Baez, he plays out his final year of arbitration and earns $ 11.6MM before reaching free agency. The two parties were reported to be moving forward in negotiations on a long-term deal in the spring of 2020, before the season was shut down.
Neither Rizzo nor Baez will play at peak levels in 2021, though both have returned somewhat from a lower year in 2020. Rizzo sent a .222 / .342 / .412 strike line in 243 record appearances last year, but is up to .247 / .342 / .429 so far in 2021. His .182 ISO (slugging minus batting average) is his lowest grade since 2012, as is his 9.7 percent gang rate. Rizzo’s production this season is still comfortably above the league average measured by wRC + (111), but it is far from his 2014-19 levels (.284 / .388 / .513, 141 wRC +). He turns 32 next month, which certainly affects the team’s comfort level both in terms of contract length and annual value.
For Baez, the 2020 season was a nightmare. He only fought .203 / .238 / .360 with career-worst time (3.0) and strikeout (31.9) percentages as his power dropped to the lowest level since 2016. This year he beats .238 / .284 / .493 with 21 home runs – some of the best engine effects of his career. However, Baez’s long-standing strike problems have ballooned to new heights in 2021, as he has blown in 36.6 percent of his record appearances. He remains an excellent defender and does not turn 29 before the offseason, so there are still several years with Baez’s physical prime left.
Both players are somewhat difficult to appreciate in terms of expansion at the moment. Rizzo has not fully jumped back from last year’s decline in production, and any new contract would buy out in the mid-30s. Baez is younger and enjoys a bigger bounceback effort, but his sharp swing-and-miss tendencies and bottom-of-the-scale OBP are hard to overlook.
The Cubs have tried at various points to unlock both players, and it seems that it will be even more difficult now to hammer the terms in a two-week window leading up to the trade deadline – especially when the front office also dedicates a lot of time to put trading interest in other players on the list. This is not to say that an extension for both players is not out of the question, but the timing does not exactly work to their advantage. However, the absence of an extension does not make a trade a matter of course; both players would be a candidate for a qualifying offer, which would give the Cubs an option to keep them on an expensive one-year deal or at least get a compensatory draft if they signed elsewhere.
What is remarkable about Heyman’s report on the likelihood of extension negotiations with Baez and Rizzo is that it appears that such talks with star third baseman / outfielder are not planned. Kris Bryant. The former NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP enjoys a more extensive rebound season than either of his two aforementioned teammates and figures to enter the offseason as one of the best free agents in the open market. He will be interested in a large number of providers as they appear to be strengthening their line-up over the next 14 days and the absence of any final extension negotiations seems to indicate an acknowledgment that the ship has sailed.
Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Zach Daviesand Andrew Chafin is among the most likely kids to change hands in the coming days and they will definitely receive interest in veterans Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks as well. However, Contreras will be controlled through 2022 via arbitration. Hendricks is signed affordable through the 2023 campaign with the option of 2024. Given the level of remaining club control, there is less urgency to enter into an agreement involving both players, even if it does not prevent other teams from trying to pry them loose.