Rizzo: 'I still love what we have going on'

February 22nd, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- As headed off Field 1 at the Cubs' complex on Monday morning, he let out a hearty laugh while walking with quality assurance coach Mike Napoli. It was a light moment following a high-energy infield workout on the first day of camp for the full squad.

It was also a snapshot of what Rizzo wants in the coming campaign -- one that does not include a clear answer about his future with the Cubs beyond 2021. Rizzo's legacy with the franchise is more than secure, but he savors each second while balancing his roles as competitive leader and class clown.

"I just want to go out and continue to have that big smile and play the game hard," Rizzo said. "That's all you can do every day. At the end of this year, I'll look back with no regrets, because just every day, you just enjoy it. It's too short. Life's too short. The game's too short. All the cliches. But I really do live my life that way."

Discussing the possible dissolution of the Cubs' core is nothing new, but reality continues to appear closer on the franchise timeline. As Spring Training begins, Rizzo and fellow stars Javier Báez and Kris Bryant are in contractual walk years, with Willson Contreras on target to follow them into free agency after 2022.

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That makes reaching October of the utmost importance to this core group, which now lacks Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and Yu Darvish after an offseason of transitional transactions. It also makes Spring Training an ideal time for Rizzo and others to meet with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer about the possibility and plausibility of extensions.

Rizzo is looking forward to that process.

"Like Jed said, Spring Training is the perfect time -- one way or the other," Rizzo said. "This is a business. And playing for a while now, you understand that. You deal with so much outside noise at all times from the second you step onto the big league field, and this is no different.

"At the end of it, you're playing baseball. And 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."

But staying teammates forever may not be realistic.

When camp opened last week, Hoyer curbed the chances of being able to keep Báez, Bryant and Rizzo together after this season. First the team has to gauge the players' willingness to sign extensions this spring. After that, Chicago's performance in the first few months will influence Hoyer's approach to the Trade Deadline, as he weighs the future against the present.

"Obviously, these guys have been fantastic Cubs that did something historic together," Hoyer said. "And so, rightfully, Cubs nation owes that group a debt of gratitude, and they're always going to be legends for the Cubs. We've said all along, very clearly, we'd like to keep some of these players. That'd be great.

"But it's unrealistic to keep all of the players that were a significant part of 2016. And that's just the reality."

Rizzo has been the common thread for the franchise going on a decade.

Hoyer was in Boston's front office when the Red Sox drafted Rizzo in the sixth round in 2007. Hoyer then headed San Diego's front office when the Red Sox (still led by Theo Epstein at the time) dealt Rizzo to the Padres in a Dec. 6, 2010, blockbuster. And then the Epstein and Hoyer-led Cubs acquired Rizzo in January 2012 in the early part of the Cubs' rebuild.

Rizzo debuted for Chicago during the 101-loss 2012 season that led to Bryant being drafted in 2013. He signed a seven-year extension in '13 that included a pair of team options ('20 and '21). Along the way he made three All-Star teams, won four Gold Glove Awards, grew into a leader on and off the field, and gloved the final out of a World Series triumph that ended a 108-year drought.

And now, after Epstein stepped down as the lead decisionmaker for the Cubs, Hoyer will be meeting with Rizzo to set a course for the next few years.

"There's so much history we have, and there's so much camaraderie," Rizzo said. "It's exciting. It's exciting times, and it's exciting to be in this position, and I'm grateful."

Rizzo said it is up to the core group that remains to "earn" back the trust of fans who have seen the collective offense wilt down the stretch in recent seasons. He also said it will be critical for the group to push all the outside noise and distractions out of mind in order to focus on the months ahead.

There will be plenty of that white noise as long as Rizzo, Báez and Bryant keep marching toward the open market. And while Rizzo said he will leave any negotiations up to his representatives, he emphasized again how much he loves playing for the Cubs.

"Everything that I love about this city, I kind of wear on my sleeve," he said. "I still love it. I still love our team. I still love what we have going on here."