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Could Rizzo Come Home in ‘22?

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The Cubs’ longtime first baseman is set to hit free agency after the 2021 season.

Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

To call Chicago Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s 9-year/$75 million contract anything but a steal would seem rather-shortsighted.

The longtime Chicago first baseman has done it all in his nearly-decade long tenure there, making three All-Star teams, winning four Gold Gloves, a Platinum Glove, a Silver Slugger, and finishing top 10 in NL MVP voting three times. Most importantly though, Rizzo played an integral part in bringing the Cubs their first World Series title since 1908.

Despite coming off a relatively weak season in 2020, where he managed to hit just .222, Rizzo has been a stalwart in the National League for nearly a decade.

Since signing the above-noted team-friendly extension prior to the 2013 season, Rizzo has been one of the sport’s most consistent hitters, let alone first basemen, hitting .274/.377/.494, good enough for a 132 OPS+, fourth among first basemen in that span.

As then-Marlins closer Brandon Kintzler struck out teammate Jason Kipnis to advance to the NLDS, little would Rizzo know that the times of the Cubs as perennial contenders in the NL Central would be drawing to a close.

With his contract set to expire at the conclusion of the 2021 season and the Cubs seemingly beginning the teardown of their roster, Rizzo - along with impending free agents Kris Bryant and Jávier Baez - could soon depart the North Side just as Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber, and Víctor Caratini have already done.

We recently saw free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer enact a coming-home of sorts when he announced his signing to a record three-year/$102 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him baseball’s first $40 million player in the process.

Now, given Rizzo’s age - he turns 32 August 9th - the chances of him earning Bauer-like dollars are slim, but that won’t impede his opportunity to earn a sizable-sum in free agency.

It should go without saying that the fit with the Marlins is an obvious one, but for those unclear, here are the semantics.

Currently, the team expects Jesús Aguilar to serve as their primary first baseman in 2021. Aguilar - who had a rebirth of sorts with Miami in 2020, finishing with an .809 OPS and 120 OPS+ in 51 games - is arbitration eligible following the 2021 season, another year akin to the one he had in 2019 could put a cap on his tenure with the club. Aguilar split 2019 between Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, finishing with a .236 average and sub-.400 slugging percentage.

The current roster also includes Garrett Cooper on the roster, who, too, is capable of manning first base, but also has experience in the corner outfield spots, particularly right field. Should the National League adopt the universal-DH for either 2021 or 2022 following the new collective bargaining agreement, Cooper would be first in line to man the DH-role for the team. Cooper owns a respectable 111 OPS+ in 155 games with the Marlins, hitting 21 home runs while driving in 72.

One possible thorn in the idea of Rizzo joining his home team is that of top prospect Lewin Díaz.

Acquired in the trade that sent Sergio Romo to Minnesota in 2018, Díaz entered the 2020 season as the team’s eighth best prospect, eventually debuting in August that year. In 14 games, the then-23 year old Díaz hit .154 with 12 strikeouts in 39 at-bats, though he hit a modest .268 with a .778 OPS in the minor leagues.

Though he’ll most definitely be given the opportunity to play everyday at some point, should Rizzo come to Miami, Díaz could made expendable via trade.

Defensively, Rizzo would offer an upgrade from the likes of Cooper and Aguilar, who, while competent at the position, wouldn’t man it with the precision Rizzo does and has done. Per Fielding Bible, Rizzo’s 65 defensive runs saved are the most among first basemen since 2013, with runner up Paul Goldschmidt trailing far-behind at 53.

Regionality gives the team an early leg-up in the forthcoming free agent negations, as Rizzo was born and raised in Parkland, a mere 45 minutes from Marlins Park. Rizzo attended Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

On February 14, 2018, the school fell victim to the deadliest mass shooting in high school history, with 17 students losing their lives that fateful Valentines’ Day, along with 17 others being injured. Rizzo would deliver an emotional tribute to the victims and their families the following night.

Should he wind up in Miami, it’d be a feel-good story coinciding with the narrative of a team building on a surprise 2020 season as they further look to the future to contention in the NL East, with Rizzo hopefully being there for it.