Predictions on future of Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras, Baez, Schwarber


by - Staff Writer -
Bryzzo helped the Cubs win a title in 2016 (Patrick Gorski - USA Today Sports)
Bryzzo helped the Cubs win a title in 2016 (Patrick Gorski - USA Today Sports)

The last few offseason for the Chicago Cubs have seen a lot of expectations and not a lot of action for Theo Epstein and company.

Questions swirled, and continue to swirl, around what the organization would do with the core-five players, four of whom are due to be free agents after the 2021 season (Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber) and one after the 2022 season (Willson Contreras).

As much as Epstein proclaimed production over potential and that our offense broke, he never had to act on it because he had the luxury of having control over these players. Fittingly, Epstein relinquished the final year of his contract for a multitude of reasons — but he won’t ever have to be the guy who traded away Javier Baez or made Kris Bryant a free agent.

Now it’s Jed Hoyer’s problem to solve and gap to bridge as the Cubs try to connect the dots between the 2016 World Series team and their next championship contender — with a division that still appears to be for the taking.

"Given the talent on the roster and given the fact that we were able to win the division despite some underperformance, the goal still has to be to win the division,” Hoyer said.

The time is now to act on the core five players. Still, the issue that has been repeatedly brought up is that four of the five are coming off of career-worst season statistically — and the landscape of baseball economics is in shambles as the league battles the financial burden of a global pandemic, the uncertainty of whether or not fans will be in the stands in 2021 and the impending new collective bargaining agreement after the 2021 season.

For Hoyer, he will be faced with a bunch of tough decisions in his first few months as President of baseball operations, but the fans' feelings are not in his mind; the Cubs' success is.

“Sometimes, the best decisions you make are the hardest ones,” Hoyer said. “And sometimes the worst decisions you make are the ones that you’re excited about at that moment or have the most fan appeal.”

Here are the curious cases of the Cubs core five.

Kyle Schwarber: Schwarber’s decision has partially already been made. At the Dec. 2 tender deadline, the Cubs decided that they would not tender Schwarber a contract for the 2021 season — making Schwarber a free agent. The decision was primarily a money one, as the Cubs decided Schwarber was not worth the raise to $8 million (estimate) in arbitration after a season in which he hit .198.

Hoyer has made it clear, and so has Schwarber, that a reunion is not out of the question for the lefty slugger — who may project long term as a designated hitter if the MLB decides that the National League will have one. The money will be the main discussion point.

But the bottom line is that Schwarber is a free agent and the Cubs only have two outfielders listed on their 40-man roster in Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

BEST GUESS: Cubs bring Schwarber back on 1-2 year $5 million dollar contract — or he finds himself reunited with Joe Maddon and the Angels.

Kris Bryant: Bryant’s story is one of the most peculiar. The Cubs manipulated his service time six years ago for the seventh year of control over Bryant — that year being 2021 — and they almost got so desperate financially to contender Bryant and forewent the extra year of control they fought hard to get.

Bryant is coming off of an injury riddled campaign where his power was primarily zapped — but those around the industry expect a bounce back from the 2013 College player of the year, 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, 2015 Rookie of the Year, and 2016 NL MVP.

Bryant has been the name tossed around in trade rumors most over the last few offseasons, with rumors of the Nationals, Mets, Giants, Red Sox, Padres, Dodgers, and Braves being interested in the versatile corner player.

For Hoyer, the question is threefold a) should he try and negotiate an extension with Bryant, whose value is at an all-time low? b) should he try and trade Bryant this offseason, so he does not let Bryant’s value decrease further or walk for nothing? or c) should he keep Bryant on the roster for 2021 and see if his value can increase by the trade deadline so the Cubs can maximize the return for Bryant?

That or the Cubs could not do anything with Bryant like they have done the last few years.

BEST GUESS: Bryant gets traded, potentially during the middle of the season, but I think his days in Chicago are numbered.

Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo, to me, is the most obvious suggestion to remain in Chicago. The impact Rizzo has made on the organization both on the field and off is just too much for him to ever wear another uniform. He is the modern-day Mr. Cub — so he should finish his career in Chicago.

Rizzo is obviously aging and coming off a season in which he batted well under his usual numbers — but it makes too much sense for the Cubs from both a legacy and public relation standpoint to keep Rizzo here long term.

His fielding and situational hitting are superb, and he is one of the best leaders in the clubhouse. Hoyer’s choice with Rizzo is either extend him now or attempt to re-sign him following 2021 — now could be cheaper — but the bottom line is I think there is no way Rizzo walks.

BEST GUESS: Rizzo is signed to an extension in the neighborhood of five seasons — relatively team-friendly money wise.

Javier Baez: If not Rizzo, Baez is the most logical candidate for a long-term extension. The obvious reasons are his game-changing power, electrifying base running, dazzling hitting, and pure entertainment. A less known reason to sign Baez is that he is must-see TV — a great thing for a brand new network trying to draw viewers and make money.

Baez had a difficult season in 2020, one that he blamed on not being able to watch video during the game, but the Cubs and the league expect better days from Baez. He is apart of a loaded free-agent class of shortstops to hit the open market next year, and something tells me if Hoyer is not blown away by a trade offer this offseason, Baez won’t make it to free agency.

The power will stick long term, and Baez’s defense is versatile. Not to mention, he is one of the most exciting and marketable players in all of the MLB.

BEST GUESS: The Cubs and Baez agree on an extension in the neighborhood for 8-10 years — likely locking up his career with the Cubs and backloading the deal to give the team more flexibility now.

Willson Contreras: Contreras is the only member of the core coming off a good season, as I mentioned above. Contreras finished 2020 with a .243 average with seven homers and 26 RBIs — but also was named a finalist for the gold glove in the NL.

Contreras is the Cubs' most valuable trade piece because a catcher of his stature and ability with two seasons of control left is hard to come by — but Contreras might also be most valuable to the current Cubs team pitching staff.

Hoyer has the flexibility to dangle Contreras in a way he cannot for the other players — but the Cubs also have the ability to backfill Contreras with Victor Caratini and the up-and-coming Miguel Amaya — something they could not say about Bryant, Rizzo or Schwarber.

But it would be next to impossible to find a catcher with the power, arm strength, work ethic, and energy that Contreras has — so for that reason, I find it unlikely Hoyer moves him.

BEST GUESS: Cubs explore offers but do not get what they believe Contreras is worth. Hold him through 2021 and extend him for 5-7 years after 2021.

As you can see, Hoyer clearly has his hands full.

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