CHICAGO -- The arrival of Opening Day will mark the end of extension talks between the Cubs and Anthony Rizzo. The first baseman made it clear that he wants to focus on the season without the distraction of negotiations.
Two days after Rizzo met with the media to explain his stance, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer offered his side of things in a Zoom call on Wednesday. Hoyer had something he wanted to make clear: Rizzo is still very much in the Cubs' plans.
"I want him playing first base for the Chicago Cubs for a long time -- in 2022, and beyond," Hoyer said. "And I've made that really clear to him throughout the process."
Hoyer added that he was "very confident" that the sides would eventually get a deal done.
"I'm confident that he wants to be back here in Chicago," Hoyer said. "I know that we want him back here. And so, I believe something will work out. Ultimately, the timing, to me, doesn't matter. What matters is that we're able to reach an agreement."
A recent report by The Athletic indicated that the Cubs made an offer of five years and $70 million to Rizzo, but Hoyer cautioned against reading too much into "one data point" that reached the public sphere. Hoyer also noted that he would respect Rizzo's Opening Day deadline, but said "our door is open" for picking up talks again.
Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Rizzo are among the players who can reach free agency next offseason. Hoyer said he engaged in talks with the agents for all three during Spring Training, but he did not want to go into further details.
"Obviously, we weren't able to reach extensions with this group during Spring Training," Hoyer said. "Certainly, our hope is that we can have some of those players beyond 2021."
Hoyer: 'No secret' a strong start matters
Beyond potentially impacting contract talks down the road, the way the Cubs play over the first few months will undoubtedly impact how the team approaches the July 31 Trade Deadline.
With so many potential free agents after this season, the Cubs will need to weigh the team's best path forward for 2022 and beyond. Where Chicago sits in the postseason picture come July will be important in that process.
"That's reality," Hoyer said. "It's no secret that the first three months are going to be really important. I hope very much that we're in the position of being buyers and that we're leading the division at that point and we're in great position. That's obviously our hope.
"But the idea of the pressure of it, I just think we have to be able to live with that. That's life in the big market. That's life in the big leagues."
• Clubs were informed on Monday that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals, and for clubs where 85 percent of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.
"That 85-percent threshold is really important," Hoyer said. "We will be encouraging people to get the vaccine, but at the same time, we have to honor peoples' personal choice along with that. As a club, as an organization, we'll be encouraging them."
• Utility man Ildemaro Vargas cleared waivers and was sent outright to Triple-A Iowa. Vargas will report to the Cubs' alternate training site.
"I feel like the vibe coming north is fantastic. Obviously, starting [Thursday], vibes don't matter. Starting [Thursday], it's about wins and losses. But they couldn't have had a better spring." -- Hoyer, on start of 2021 season
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks is slated for his second straight Opening Day start on Thursday, when the Cubs host the Pirates at 1:20 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field to begin the 2021 campaign. Righty Chad Kuhl will start for Pittsburgh.