Among the various reactions from Cubs fans to the news of Anthony Rizzo re-upping with the Yankees, the prevailing sentiment seemed to be that he could have earned way more money had he just accepted an extension offer. The Cubs had proposed a five-year, $70 million deal a year ago and he turned it down, understandably so, because it seemed at the time like an unserious effort from the organization.
Rizzo instructed his agents to discontinue negotiations toward the end of spring training and, despite rumblings of some additional efforts throughout the first half, he was eventually traded to New York. He got off to a hot start with the Yankees, collecting an RBI in a franchise record six straight games to open his tenure, before leveling off to just above his pre-trade level of production.
That and an apparent inability to lure Freddie Freeman had the Yanks offering Rizzo a two-year, $32 million deal that came in well under half of what he could have gotten from the Cubs. Surely he must have been kicking himself, some thought. Jed Hoyer pegged it, others noted. Chicago’s baseball boss had mentioned publicly that the club made offers to its superstar players that would hold up well over time and many agreed with him.
Rizzo, however, is not one of them.
“It’s not like I’m sitting here saying I wish I had taken it,” Rizzo told The Athletic. “If I play four to six more years, I’m going to make more money than I would doing that. When it’s all said and done, we’ll see. But as of now, no regrets.”
Sounds simple enough on the surface, though it’s hard to imagine a dude with pesky back problems playing to age 40. Even if Rizzo fulfills the short end of his prediction and plays another four years, he’d have to get $10 million AAV to surpass what he could have gotten from the Cubs. His reasoning is difficult to justify from a purely financial level, but it wasn’t just about the money.
“I wanted to stay there,” Rizzo added. “But I’ve made money in this game. I want to win. That’s definitely something that was important to me.”
Fans often fall back on a defense mechanism when it comes to longtime players leaving for other offers, sort of a we-didn’t-want-you-anyway delusion that helps them to feel better about how things worked out. And while that isn’t necessarily what’s happening with Rizzo, there has been a certain measure of siding with management when it comes to being “right” about the offers to the team’s de facto captain and other departed franchise heroes.
Though I could easily spend some time arguing that Kris Bryant ended up doing better than the erroneously-reported “offer” he got in 2018, we’ll stick with Rizzo so as not to get too far afield. Not only was $70 million pretty light in comparison to Paul Goldschmidt, who got $130 million over five years from the Cardinals, but it seemed to ignore his value to the organization as an icon.
This is the part where you’ll say it doesn’t make good business sense to pay for reputation, after which I say you’re silly if you think the Chicago By-God Cubs haven’t trafficked in nostalgia for the last several decades. Being able to sell fans on the Platonic ideal of Cubdom as encapsulated by Wrigley Field is the whole reason the Ricketts kids were able to pump Papa Joe for hundreds of millions to buy the club in the first place.
So when we’re talking about a club that claims to pull in 70% of its revenue from gameday activities, you can miss me with saying a player like Rizzo needs to justify his contract with on-field performance alone. But since we’re on that topic, what about the incredibly team-friendly deal in 2013 that guaranteed him just $41 million over seven years ($5.86M AAV).
Rizzo earned as much as $11 million one time over the course of those guaranteed seasons, after which the Cubs picked up each of two options that had bumped from $14.5 million to $16.5 million based on his previous MVP finishes. Factoring in the 37% proration on the shortened 2020 season, he earned around $61.6 million during his decade in Chicago.
Again, you can choose to look at that as a very savvy move by the Cubs to extract an incredible amount of value from a great player and tip your cap to them. But from Rizzo’s perspective, he did the team a solid and was underpaid for most of those 10 years with the hope that the Cubs would make good on it to some extent on the back end. Baseball is a business, that much was brought into even sharper focus during the lockout, but the business of baseball on the North Side of Chicago uses emotion as currency.
In that regard, Rizzo was a veritable printing press the likes of which not even rooftops or renovations could top. The tax savings from Wrigley’s federal landmark status might beat him out, thought, and the new sportsbook will have something to say once once it’s completed
It’s entirely possible, likely even, that Rizzo never recoups the lost value of the extension he turned down. But with the advent of the designated hitter in the National League opening up his options and potentially extending his career, he might actually make out better. And if he’s able to capture another title before the Cubs do, well, that could be all the justification he needs.