The Cubs have already traded Joc Pederson to the Braves and are expected to continue selling veteran players in the two weeks leading up to the deadline, but they’ll first take one last effort at hammering out contract extensions with shortstop Javier Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter).
Both Rizzo and Baez have been viewed as extension candidates with the Cubs for the past several years, but neither has worked out a deal to remain in Chicago beyond the 2021 campaign. Rizzo is playing out the second of two option seasons that were included on his original seven-year, $41MM contract with the club.
Chicago unsurprisingly picked up both of those club options, and Rizzo will end up earning a combined $75MM over a nine-year term. The Cubs reportedly offered Rizzo a five-year, $70MM contract extension back in Spring Training — about $60MM less than the Cardinals guaranteed Paul Goldschmidt for the same portion of his career.
As for Baez, he’s playing out his final arbitration year and earning $11.6MM before reaching free agency. The two parties were reported to be progressing in talks on a long-term deal in spring 2020 before the season was shut down.
Neither Rizzo nor Baez is playing at peak levels in 2021, although both have rebounded somewhat from a down year in 2020. Rizzo posted a .222/.342/.412 batting line in 243 plate appearances last year but is up to .247/.342/.429 so far in 2021. His .182 ISO (slugging minus batting average) is his lowest mark since 2012, as is his 9.7 percent walk rate. Rizzo’s production this season is still comfortably above the league average, by measure of wRC+ (111), but it’s a far cry from his 2014-19 levels (.284/.388/.513, 141 wRC+). He’ll turn 32 next month, however, which surely impacts the team’s comfort level both in terms of contract length and annual value.
For Baez, the 2020 season was nightmarish. He batted just .203/.238/.360 with career-worst walk (3.0) and strikeout (31.9) percentages as his power dipped to its lowest level since 2016. This year, he’s batting .238/.284/.493 with 21 home runs — some of the best power output of his career. However, Baez’s long-troubling strikeout issues have ballooned to new heights in 2021, as he’s fanned in 36.6 percent of his plate appearances. He remains an excellent defender and won’t turn 29 until the offseason, so there are still several years of Baez’s physical prime left.
Both players are somewhat difficult to value from an extension standpoint at the moment. Rizzo hasn’t bounced all the way back from last year’s downturn in production, and any new contract would be buying out his mid-30s. Baez is younger and enjoying a larger bounceback effort, but his glaring swing-and-miss tendencies and bottom-of-the-scale OBP are difficult to overlook.
The Cubs have tried at various points to lock up both players, and it seems it’ll be even more difficult now to hammer out terms in a two-week window leading up to the trade deadline — particularly when the front office is also dedicating so much time to fielding trade interest in other players on the roster. That’s not to say an extension for either player is out of the question, but the timing isn’t exactly working in their favor. The absence of an extension doesn’t make a trade a foregone conclusion, however; either player would be a candidate for a qualifying offer, which would give the Cubs an opportunity to retain them on a high-priced one-year deal or at least gain a compensatory draft pick should they sign elsewhere.
As notable in Heyman’s report on the likelihood of extension talks with Baez and Rizzo is that it appears no such talks are being planned with star third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant. The former NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP is enjoying a more substantial rebound season than either of his two aforementioned teammates and figures to enter the offseason as one of the top free agents on the open market. He’ll draw interest from a wide number of contenders as they look to bolster their lineup over the next 14 days, and the absence of any last-ditch extension talks would seem to indicate an acknowledgement of that ship having sailed.
Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Zach Davies, and Andrew Chafin are among the likeliest Cubs to change hands in the coming days, and they’ll surely receive interest in veterans Willson Contreras and Kyle Hendricks as well. Contreras, however, is controlled through 2022 via arbitration. Hendricks is signed affordably through the 2023 campaign with an option for 2024. Given that level of remaining club control, there’s less urgency to make a deal involving either player, though that won’t stop other teams from trying to pry them loose.