Anthony Rizzo isn’t dwelling on his looming free agency, knowing the Chicago Cubs offense needs to ‘prove it’ in 2021

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

At one point during Monday’s workouts, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant stood on the infield grass near third base, casually chatting during a brief break between drills.

Rizzo had been cracking smiles and eliciting laughs while fielding ground balls and receiving throws at first base. There’s normalcy being back on the diamond among teammates and friends, even amid the COVID-19 protocols that limit groups to different fields.

Rizzo, the longest-tenured Chicago Cub, isn’t dwelling on his contract situation. He agreed with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s assessment that spring training is an ideal time to discuss a contract extension, but he’s unsure of a timeline to get a potential deal done.

“I mean, obviously this city and everything that I love about this city, I kind of wear on my sleeve and I still love it,” Rizzo said Monday. “I still love our team. I still love what we have going on here. And keeping everything here inside this building I think would be the smartest approach for everyone.

“This is a business, and playing for a while now, you understand that and you deal with so much outside noise at all times the second you step onto the big-league field, and this is no different. At the end of it, I’m playing baseball with a lot of really good friends here. They’re not just teammates, they’re close friends that will be close friends forever.”

Rizzo didn’t sound concerned about negotiating a new deal while Bryant and Javier Baez potentially do the same. As he put it, “We’re all friends, so it’s not like there’s really much secrets here, and at the same time, we’re all professionals.”

As their agents navigate the contract situations, the trio has more control over the offense’s effectiveness this year as the heart of the lineup. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections view the Cubs offense favorably. The model estimates the Cubs will finish with the third-most runs in the National League behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. It’s an optimistic view of a lineup that largely returns intact.

Rizzo understands if people are skeptical the Cubs will produce like they should after their recent underwhelming track record.

“We’ve got to go out and earn it and prove it,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should believe in it. We haven’t done what we’re capable of doing the last few years.

The sting of how last season ended just two games into the postseason was particularly harsh because of the connection the team established while playing through the COVID-19-related challenges. Rizzo hasn’t forgotten that feeling.

“It’s up to us to go out and prove it every day, every year,” Rizzo said. “Just because you do one thing one year doesn’t mean you’re entitled to anything the next year.”

Rizzo used future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera, whom he looked up to as a kid, as an example of that mentality.

“Every single year, year in and year out, he’d just do it and do it, keep doing it and put up the same numbers, put up monster numbers,” Rizzo said. “And it’s no different now. When we go out and play like that team, we’re going to have fun.”

FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections use past performance and aging trends to determine a player’s likely production. Recent seasons are weighed more heavily, and statistics are taken from the past four seasons. ZiPS projects Rizzo, Bryant and Baez to hit better than last season but still below their career averages. With this formula, their 2020 performances won’t help their forecast modeling.

But as Rizzo noted, it’s on them to get outsiders to buy in that the Cubs offense is the real deal. The core of the lineup has a final shot to show it can be prolific.

“It’s just making sure everyone’s in the right mindset and focused on the right things,” Rizzo said. “You’re not going to get an extension on one swing this year. It’s a full 162 games, hopefully. And I think our guys are comfortable with that body of work, being able to just go out and continue to be there.”