The big news yesterday was the Cubs’ announcement that the team had extended 23 year old 1Bman Anthony Rizzo for seven years at $41 million. This signing continues and extends the trend of major league teams locking up their young stars with long term contracts early in their careers.
At this point in his career, Rizzo has exactly 685 major league plate appearances, about one full season, with a career .253 batting average and .762 OPS. At this point Rizzo is still more promise than production, even taking into account his awful debut with the Padres in 2011, when at age 21 he batted only .141 with a .523 OPS in 49 games.
By way of comparison, Starlin Castro and Paul Goldschmidt looked like seasoned veterans at the point that their respective teams extended them (Castro by the Cubs last August and Goldschmidt by the Diamondbacks this Spring) insofar as Castro and Goldschmidt had at least completed full seasons in which they had established themselves as star players before being extended.
The Cubs’ thinking is obvious — they’re sold on Rizzo and they’ve locked in for the best years of his career a still very young power hitter who is more likely than not to get much better over the next three to five seasons at a very reasonable rate. In fact, the contract contains two club options for years eight and nine which, if exercised, would raise the contract to $70 million and would keep Rizzo a Cub through age 31.
Rizzo, on the other hand, has potentially left a lot of money on the table for the guarantee of what should be lifetime financial security at age 23. He also gets to play his prime years in Wrigley Field, which gives him the one of the best chances to develop into a superstar slugger.
Clearly, there’s a risk here for the Cubs — as noted above, Rizzo really hasn’t done much so far in his major league career, and he strikes out a lot. Major league pitchers will find holes in Rizzo’s swing, and we don’t yet know how good Rizzo will be at making the necessary adjustments to close or at least shrink those holes. Even so, the upside of this signing is certainly high enough to justify the $41 million risked.
At this point, I think the only thing standing in the way of other teams signing their young stars as relatively inexperienced as Rizzo to long term deals is that some of these young stars will choose to defer the long-term deal for at least a couple of seasons in order to establish themselves as major stars and command the much larger deals that, for example, Matt Cain (five years and $112.5 million new money) and Buster Posey (nine years, $167 million) recently signed with the Giants, Felix Hernandez (five years, $135.5 million new money) signed with the Mariners and Clayton Kershaw will likely soon sign with the Dodgers. Further, teams will likely wait longer to extend their young pitchers in order to see whether they can handle 200+ inning work loads for multiple seasons.