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posted: 5/20/2013 5:30 AM

Len Kasper: Rizzo deal just part of Cubs' plan

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  • Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo got a long-term contract commitment from the team, but first he had to prove himself.

      Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo got a long-term contract commitment from the team, but first he had to prove himself.
    Associated Press

 
 

Last week the Cubs signed first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the next seven seasons and maybe a couple beyond that as the team continues to peg and secure its long-term core.

This deal came as no surprise for several reasons.

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Rizzo has long been connected to Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, going back to their Red Sox days (and later with Hoyer and McLeod in San Diego). They have now drafted him, traded for him twice and signed him to his first multiyear big-league contract.

But while their relationship runs deep, don't let that give you the impression that Rizzo was handed some sort of blindly loyal, player-friendly deal. He needed to show them that he could handle major-league pitching at this level, particularly after a dismal debut with the Padres a couple of years ago.

Last season he did that, putting up a .285/.342/463 slash-line in 87 games, and he has followed it up by hitting for even more power this year.

The contract length could really benefit the Cubs down the road. The deals given to Rizzo and Starlin Castro buy out their arbitration years and some free agency at rates that in the end could look like nice bargains.

Yes, there always is the chance that their "high-ceiling" potential is not reached. But the floor is being set as I write this, and it is improbable to imagine that either guy will get worse as he gets into his prime years.

As baseball columnist Joe Sheehan tweeted regarding the Rizzo deal, "All upside, almost no downside."

On the other side of these pacts, you may be asking, why would Castro and Rizzo give up their enormous potential earning power when they reach 27 or 28? Again, it's all about risk-reward.

The prevailing thought is that young players should generally accept that first long-term deal in order to take care of their family and guard against a career-ending injury.

You know, take the millions now, secure your financial future, go out and be great, and then play hardball if you want to with your next contract. When you're 22 or 23 and staring at a guaranteed $41 million or $60 million, it's tough to turn down.

There really doesn't seem to be too much debate regarding these deals -- the Cubs did what pretty much every other team in their situation would have done.

The next questions get a little trickier: Do the Cubs open their wallet for Jeff Samardzija and/or Matt Garza?

It gets more complicated with pitchers, especially when they are nearing 30.

Samardzija is in no hurry to think about a long-term deal, and the Cubs have time as well -- he is under their control through 2015.

Garza's situation, however, is much more immediate because he can be a free agent after this season. But first he must show he can return at full health and be the power arm he was before last year's elbow (and this year's subsequent lat) injury.

In order to keep these veterans, you have to almost certainly overpay them because of their service time. And once pitchers (especially power guys) get to their age 32 and 33 seasons, father time can sometimes throw their careers into a decline.

Samardzija and Garza are guys everybody wants. So the rewards in keeping them are obvious.

The bigger question regarding Garza this summer and Samardzija in a year or two is, will the benefits of keeping proven, high-end starters outweigh the big price tags?

Nobody knows for sure, but the guess here is that the Cubs' first choice is to keep both as long as they can.

•Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @LenKasper and check out his [URL]blog entries;http://wgntv.com/news/stories/len-and-jds-cubs-baseball-blog/[URL] with Jim Deshaies at wgntv.com. To post comments or questions for Len, click on the comment link with his column at dailyherald.com.[/URL]

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