NEW YORK – Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo has followed the Cubs’ season from a unique vantage point.
Who else can say they’ve been through the early years of a Cubs rebuild before, experienced the deadline sell-off last year first-hand, and are now on a perennial playoff team?
“When the big teams are playing at a premium, it’s just better for baseball,” he said Friday. “It’s better for the overall experience when you turn on a game and it’s Yankees-Red Sox battling for first place in June, but it seems like it’s October. That’s good for baseball.
“And all the big markets have plenty of money to spend. So yeah, a team like the Cubs should be competing every single year at a very high payroll.”
The Cubs’ 2-1 extra-innings loss to the Yankees on Friday marked the first game Rizzo has played against his former team since it traded him to the Yankees last summer. He went 0-for-4 at the plate.
Though only a few of Rizzo former teammates remained in the opposite dugout Friday, the group included his close friend Ian Happ and four guys he’d won a World Series with – Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras and manager David Ross.
The Cubs are going through their second rebuild in a decade, although president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer stands by his promise that this time won’t be a mirror image of the last.
“I don’t necessarily think you can use the same strategy multiple times in a row,” he said last month.
Rizzo was part of the core that pulled the Cubs from rebuild mode to championship mode last time. But unlike Javy Báez and Kris Bryant, Rizzo was also there for the teardown years, when the Cubs lost 101 and 96 games in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“In ‘14 at the deadline was when the feeling went away, like this is going to be our last time trading guys,” Rizzo said.
It’s unclear how many more trading sprees the Cubs will have this time around. Even though they’ve played tightly contested games in recent weeks against playoff-hunt bound teams (Brewers, Cardinals, Yankees), the Cubs (23-34) are expected to be sellers this time around.
Rizzo can relate to the position Contreras, in his last year of club control, is in.
“I’m sure last year has helped with him too, just seeing the reality of this game,” Rizzo said. “... He’s a professional. He knows how to prepare. And I never have seen him ever let outside noise get to him. I don’t think that’ll change right now for him.”
Contreras and the Cubs avoided arbitration before his scheduled hearing Thursday, agreeing to a $9.625 million salary for 2022.
“I’m really happy with the results that we got,” Contreras said. “I think both sides won, and I’m really happy how the negotiation went through.”
Contreras said they have not begun extension talks.
“I’m not focused on that,” he said when asked if he hoped the club would engage. “I’m focused on playing my season the way I’ve been playing, keep helping my teammates, whoever needs my help I’ll be there, lead the team the right way. And I’m just going to keep going.”
Rizzo, on the other hand, cut off extension talks when the parties reached an impasse before Opening Day last year. The Cubs traded him four months later.
“It’s not like they’re just gonna go and roll over anyone by any means,” Rizzo said of this new-look Cubs team, after its payroll-cutting moves. “It’s just a different year than the normal standard that we created there over the last seven or so years.”