Rizzo 'optimistic' about long-term extension

March 12th, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- headed out to the bleacher seats at Wrigley Field during a Summer Camp game last year. The longtime Cubs first baseman moved to different sections, cheering on his teammates from vantage points he had never experienced.

With no fans in the stands, Rizzo had a chance to see the ballpark he has called home in a different way. It was a year full of altered perspectives for people around the globe. Rizzo called it a year of personal growth for himself, and it gave him plenty to ponder about what's next.

"I'm very optimistic," Rizzo, sitting at a table adjacent to Field 1 at the Cubs' spring complex on Friday morning, said.

Specifically, Rizzo is optimistic about the chances that he and the Cubs can find common ground in extension talks. Barring a deal, the first baseman will be eligible for free agency next offseason, but Rizzo wants to stay in a Chicago uniform and keep pushing for another World Series ring.

Over the offseason, the December trade that shipped ace Yu Darvish to the Padres made the Cubs' direction unclear. Chicago's haul was centered around four young prospects who are years away from the Majors. But, as the winter progressed, the Cubs made more moves with the immediate picture in mind.

For Rizzo, who is now 31 and entering his 11th season in the big leagues, that win-now approach is important when weighing his future.

"It's big, it's big," Rizzo said. "My goal is bringing the next championship here in Chicago. And it's coming. It's coming soon. It's coming to this city. That's my focus: How are we going to win again? We feel really good."

Rizzo quickly heard himself uttering the usual spring clichés.

"I mean, it's March 12th, everyone feels good, right?" he added. "But, we've got to go and build and believe and gain momentum. As far as potentially rebuilding and all that stuff, they've been trading guys and blowing up this team for the last three years. So, it's all part of the business."

This past offseason, the Cubs let veteran lefty Jon Lester leave via free agency and non-tendered outfielder Kyle Schwarber. Other key players have come and gone in recent seasons, as Rizzo noted, but the core group has remained mostly intact through it all.

Three pieces to that core -- Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Rizzo -- are entering their contractual walk years. Willson Contreras can follow suit after the 2022 season. At the outset of camp, new president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made it known he planed to meet with that group this spring, calling it the "perfect time" for such conversations.

"We've had really good conversations top to bottom," Rizzo said.

That said, Rizzo does not want any extension talks to linger beyond Opening Day.

"For me, and everything I put into my teammates," Rizzo said, "they deserve everything I have this year and I'll give that to them, and the fans. Once April 1st comes, it's all about baseball. It's not about money. It's not about contract extension, future. It's about April 1st and winning that game and getting the best out of everyone on the team."

Hoyer may have taken the front-office reins from Theo Epstein, but the history already established between the two makes the current talks easier.

Both Epstein and Hoyer were in the Red Sox front office when Rizzo was drafted by Boston in 2007. They were there through his cancer battle as a Minor Leaguer. Later the general manager of the Padres, Hoyer then acquired Rizzo from Epstein in a December 2010 trade between Boston and San Diego.

After Epstein and Hoyer took over Chicago's front office, they reeled Rizzo in from the Padres in January of '12, landing a major building block to the Cubs' rebuild. Rizzo inked a seven-year extension with the Cubs in May of '13, and gloved the final out of the World Series triumph three years later.

"They're cut from the same cloth," Rizzo said, "as far as transparency with me and our relationship, and the ups and downs of my health battle and career and extension and winning -- just everything. ... I've always had a good relationship with Jed throughout the years, just like Theo.

"So, it's been very seamless, and I know we're in good hands."