CHICAGO — There was no press release Monday announcing the extension of the David Ross-Anthony Rizzo bromance, which became official when the Cubs picked up Rizzo’s $16.5 million option for 2020, a week after hiring Ross as their manager.
Rizzo’s option was a no-brainer for Cubs President Theo Epstein, who signed the then-23-year-old in May 2013 to a team-friendly seven-year, $41 million deal that included performance-based escalators and two option years for another $33 million.
The deal was a little bit of a risk for the Cubs at the time. Rizzo showed promise but had played in only 124 games when he signed and wasn’t in the kind of playing shape he’s in now at age 30. All long-term deals are risky by nature.
But Rizzo, who won his third Gold Glove Award on Sunday, long ago made that deal a bargain for the Cubs. He became the player they hoped he would be and a great spokesman for “The Cubs Way.”
So what’s next?
Rizzo has hinted the last two years he would be up for a long-term extension that would make him a Cub for life.
“When it comes time, we’ll be able to hopefully do something,” he said in August in Cincinnati shortly after turning 30. “It’s out of my control. I’m not sure when the time is right. … I’m financially set, but I do want to stay here. I do want to be a Cub.
“Everyone wants to stay when you’ve been with one franchise for a long time, but this is a business and it’s cutthroat as ever right now — all of sports, not just baseball.”
Rizzo’s agent, Marc Pollack, also is the agent for Ross, who signed a three-year deal with an option for 2023. Expect the Cubs and Pollack to discuss an extension for Rizzo this offseason, though there’s no urgency on either side because the team has another $16.5 million option for 2021. Epstein’s priority is deciding what significant roster changes are needed this offseason, which begins in earnest next week at the general managers meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The dynamic between Rizzo and Ross bears watching in 2020, which already has been dubbed the “year of accountability” after the frequent utterances by Epstein and Ross. The implication is there was little accountability by the end of the Joe Maddon era.
When asked about the general impression that the repetition of the “accountability” criticism left, Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times: “All these other semantics and descriptions, I don’t necessarily agree with all that. We’ll see how it all works out. But I’m really into David being really successful.”
Ross will depend on Rizzo’s presence as a clubhouse leader, while Rizzo will have to assume an even bigger role in bringing together what could be a much different group of players. The departure of strength coach Tim Buss, the team’s ambassador of good times, suggests the Cubs are seeking a more serious tone as they shift gears, and Ross and Rizzo will be part of that shift.
The Rizzo-Ross relationship dates to 2015, when Ross was a veteran backup catcher joining a team on which Rizzo had already assumed leadership. By the time Ross ended his career in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, getting carried off the field by Rizzo and Jason Heyward, he and Rizzo were close friends who had won a championship together.
Ross called Rizzo “the most important player” on the 2016 Cubs because of his attitude and ability to get the entire clubhouse involved both on and off the field.
“He’s more worried about everybody else having a good time and puts himself second,” Ross told writer Tom Verducci in “The Cubs Way.” “And I see his personality over everything in baseball. Whether it’s his at-bats, batting practice or anything, he’s quick to take a back seat to others. That’s unusual for a superstar.”
Rizzo will be around through at least 2021, and he mused on his 30th birthday about playing until he’s 40, as long as he’s performing at a high level. He has been healthy for the most part, and he impressed Epstein and his teammates in September by bouncing back quickly from an ankle sprain to try to help the Cubs during the ill-fated Cardinals series at Wrigley Field in the final homestand.
Epstein has repeatedly said there are no “untouchables” on the roster. If true, that means he should listen to any offers for Rizzo, just as the Cubs plan to listen to teams interested in Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the two biggest stars on the roster.
The biggest difference may be that Rizzo and Epstein also have a long-standing bromance. They once sang AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” together at a karaoke bar during the 2015 season.
Would Epstein dare trade a former karaoke partner?
No one can be that cutthroat.
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