While the Cubs’ Sloan Park facilities are still relatively new and supposedly state-of-the-art in every way, the cafeteria is so woefully inadequate that Anthony Rizzo prefers to eat meals in his car. Or maybe his Bentley is just is more well appointed than even the most posh dining hall. And probably because he didn’t want to be seen in public talking to Paul Sullivan.
Just kidding, Sully, I know you’re a loyal CI reader.
Whatever the case, the first baseman had a literal sit-down with the Tribune scribe to talk candidly about his past, present, and future with the Cubs. I’m sure it helped that he wasn’t just being asked about the same old stuff for the umpteenth time and didn’t have to repeat that he’s moved on.
Kris Bryant on the report of his grievance being released: “I’m moving on. I don’t feel anything. All I feel is that I want to win. I think we’ve been down this road five years now. I’m over it.”
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) March 4, 2020
I like to imagine Rizzo going to work on a big hoagie roll overflowing with copious slices of soppressata, capicola, and mortadella, but his svelte figure tells us he’s probably avoiding such delicious gut bombs. Oh well, that just means more salted, cured meats for the rest of us. In between bites of his well-balance meal and reminding Sullivan not to scuff the exquisite hand-crafted leather of his interior, the Cubs’ de facto captain opened up.
“We turned the narrative from ‘Wait till next year’ to ‘Now we’re ticked off if we’re not in the World Series,’ and not making the playoffs like last year is unacceptable,” Rizzo said when asked if the Cubs were spoiled. “It’s a great set of expectations we’ve created ourselves and for the city. That’s what you want year in, year out. You want people to believe it. We’ve done a good job shifting to believing every year.”
Though he’s not coming from the same angle, these thoughts echo those of Theo Epstein about 2020 being World Series or bust for the Cubs. Of course, one of them is talking about the attitude of the players and the other is warning that those same players might be gone if they aren’t considered title contenders in late July. Rizzo has been vocal about wanting to keep his teammates around and has bristled at the notion that Kris Bryant might be traded before his club control runs out.
At the same time, it’s impossible for even the most optimistic person to ignore how the business side of the game will eventually erode childhood dreams until they fade into bolivian.
“The reality is we’ve got to win,” Rizzo admitted. “Bringing in Rossy again — we had him in ’15 and he was a huge factor in a lot of our careers, how we shaped out — and bringing him back as a manager will help us again tremendously. We know we can lean on him, and he knows he can really lean on us through the skids and the tough times, which we’re definitely going to go through.
“But as long as we’re all together, we’ll be all right.”
The whole idea of bringing David Ross back as a manager is steeped in ambiguity, since the Cubs have said they want to get away from the fixation on 2016’s success. It sure doesn’t help that Ross has brought in both John Lackey and Ben Zobrist in an effort to, uh, move forward? Unlike the Bears or the Indiana Hoosiers, this isn’t an necessarily an effort to create for themselves a sealed ecosystem of past glory in which they can exist in perpetuity.
Rather, the front office is seeking to use Ross as the conduit through which they can mine the most desirable facets of that title team that eventually fell into disrepair. Just how realistic an aim that is remains to be seen, but the players seem to be digging it.
“Rossy is very hands-on, talking all the time, harping on the little things that we as a group need to get back to — the baserunning mistakes, and defensively we should be a lot more fundamentally sound than we’ve been in the past,” Rizzo explained.
“Most of the conversations we’re having aren’t so much the on-field baseball stuff but about focusing and attention to detail in everything you do that will lead you to make all the routine plays.”
And though such admissions will draw the ire of someone on Facebook with a bald eagle and/or a Don’t Tread on Me snake in his avatar, it’s pretty clear from watching the past two years of Cubs baseball that the attention to detail just hasn’t been there. They’re professionals who should know better, on that fact you’ll find no argument, but entropic cultural shifts take place among even the most elite practitioners of just about every craft and it’d be foolish to believe as much.
That slippage can absolutely go unnoticed by the people who are closest to it, as you’ll find watching Bar Rescue or shows of that ilk in which once thriving businesses turn into money pits. I swear that last part wasn’t meant to be a direct analogy when I started writing it. Sometimes it takes a shakeup to get people to realize just how far they’ve drifted from true north, a correction the Cubs hope takes place in a big way this season.
More specifically, they hope it’ll happen within the first four months of the season. Epstein’s ultimatum, whether real or imagined, spurs questions about several core players’ respective futures. Even Rizzo, who first signaled the Cubs’ impending return to respectability when he offered to fight the entire Reds dugout, isn’t inured to the possibility of being traded or allowed to walk in free agency.
The Gold Glover and his agent had their extension inquiries rebuffed by the Cubs this winter, no surprise given the team’s abject lack of interest in engaging any of their key players amid the moratorium on spending. GM Jed Hoyer reluctantly explained that it was a matter of the two sides being “far apart in terms length,” something only the parties themselves know for certain.
All we in the public know for certain is that Rizzo has at least one year left, with the Cubs holding a $16.5 million option on another. Though they’re almost certain to exercise such a team-friendly deal, Rizzo is both clear in his desire to remain and resigned to dealing with things as they play out.
“I can’t ever see myself playing somewhere else,” he told Sullivan. “The reality is I have two years left, though potentially just this year. I’m just going to enjoy it with my friends and brothers, all the lifelong friendships I’ve made over the years.”
One of those friendships is with Bryant, who’s in a similar situation with wanting to remain in Chicago beyond the limited time he’s currently guaranteed while being relatively helpless to make it happen. Though Rizzo didn’t mention his business partner by name, it’s pretty clear who he was talking about when discussing the change in his perspective from previous seasons.
“But you enjoy these moments more now because you know that at any given time, someone could be gone that’s played such a big role in my life personally, five-plus years,” he said. “Just enjoy every day.”
There’s a lot more to the conversation, so I’ll advise you again to go check out the full text of Sullivan’s piece. I’m not necessarily a fan of his, but I enjoyed the more organic feel of this interview and I think you’ll find it worthwhile as well.