Road to Opening Day: #44

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We’re doing a countdown of “sleeps” until the first official Cubs game of the year in Pittsburgh.  You can check out the lineup here.  Only a month and a half to go!

The Wonderful Mr. Rizzo

One of the biggest trades Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made when they first set up shop in Chicago was to acquire first baseman Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner.  Both Cashner and Rizzo are doing well in their new homes, though some fans may complain because Rizzo posted such a pedestrian batting average in 2013.  To that, we say, “Who even cares that much about batting average anymore?”  The complaints are justified in part because Rizzo received a Tampa Bay special-type deal, an extremely team-friendly extension through his age 31 season at a mere $41MM guaranteed (though he can earn nearly $70MM if the team options are picked up).  From an annual salary perspective, it’s on par with the extension Arizona gave to Paul Goldschmidt, though (at least for now) Rizzo isn’t quite as good at Goldschmidt.  It’s also a far cry from Freddie Freeman‘s insane $135MM extension, though Freeman was eligible for arbitration when he got extended.

The deal he signed makes Rizzo a solid-value commodity, but honestly we’d all like him to significantly outperform his contract.  The 20+ home run power is encouraging (he hit 23 in 2013, and 15 in an abbreviated 2012 “rookie” campaign) but the batting average, again, was disappointing to many fans, especially after putting up video game numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League before his permanent call-up.  A cursory glance at the peripherals suggest that he may have just been extremely unlucky; while his BABIP was .310 in 2012, it dropped to an anemic .258 in 2013.  Losing over 50 points in seeing-eye singles seems like something that can correct itself for the better.  And we have confidence that Rizzo is the type of player who can make adjustments rather quickly and still have the power to keep pitchers honest.Rizzo Defense

At the minimum, the defense is always there; Rizzo was one of the three finalists for the National League Gold Glove at first base.  He did lose the award to Goldschmidt, but to be honest Goldschmidt was really good defensively so it wasn’t a snub.  We love seeing Rizzo stretch for wide throws, sometimes into full splits.  He has incredibly range and quickness at the position, and if the other positions fill out, the infield with Rizzo should be about as airtight as it gets against ground balls.

Rizzo is also extremely active around the community.  As a cancer survivor, Rizzo hosts various charity events through his Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation to raise awareness for cancer research.  Along with Ryan Dempster and Brett Jackson, he also signed a baseball for my son at the first Cubs Convention I ever went to.  He seems like a person of strong moral character and is very accessible.  There are other Cubs who also host charity events and give a lot back to the community, and we’re happy to see that Rizzo is part of the generosity.

Players like Rizzo, who are tied to the community as other fan favorites and living legends, are what make it fun to be a Cubs fan.  You can’t help but root for these guys not just for their performance on the field (which should improve if the baseball gods are willing!), but also for their acts of kindness off the field.

Just like the number on the back of his jersey, we only have 44 sleeps left before Opening Day.

About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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