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updated: 6/29/2014 8:45 PM

This pendulum has swung Rizzo's way

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  • Right now, first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the leading indicator of where team president Theo Epstein is taking the Cubs. And this season, things are looking up, especially after last season.

      Right now, first baseman Anthony Rizzo is the leading indicator of where team president Theo Epstein is taking the Cubs. And this season, things are looking up, especially after last season.
    Associated Press

 
 

If Theo Epstein were capable of sweating over anything but hot weather, he might have had to wipe a soaked brow last season over Anthony Rizzo.

Epstein has too much self-confidence for that, in addition to too much confidence in Rizzo.

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In 2013, Rizzo was Exhibit A for those around here who tend to distrust Epstein's rebuild of the Cubs.

In 2014, Rizzo is Exhibit A for those around here who tend to trust that Epstein will guide the Cubs to a World Series title.

Until the so-called Core Four prospects arrive, Rizzo is the leading indicator of where Epstein is taking the Cubs. In one season Rizzo has gone from a building block with more cracks than Wrigley Field's concrete to a rock-solid cornerstone.

It's time for fair to be fair, or at least as fair as a sports columnist can be.

I have participated in the bashing of Cubs management that has become a local pastime crammed inside the national pastime. Being skeptical of Epstein soothes the sports soul.

The rebuild wreckage has grown into a heap too high, requiring batteries of mathematicians to calculate the losses.

On the other side, defense teams make a case for patience.

Rizzo has fit right into the middle of the debate since he arrived in Chicago, alternately representing hope for a bright future and a reflection of a gloomy past.

I have made it a point to monitor the results of the Jan. 6, 2012, trade in which the Cubs sent right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner to San Diego for Rizzo, a left-handed-hitting first baseman.

A year ago I made a point of pointing out that it looked like Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were losing the Cashner-for-Rizzo deal. Cashner impressed with a 3.09 ERA, while Rizzo depressed with decent power numbers but a .233 batting average.

Ah, but that was then and this is now.

Cashner currently is on the disabled for the second time this season and fourth time since the 2011 season began. Rizzo? He has rebounded to bat .282 with 17 home runs and 44 RBI in half a season.

At 24, Rizzo has plenty of time to improve further. If he does it won't matter what Cashner becomes … the Cubs will win the trade and Epstein some more credibility.

Why are the career paths of these two particular players a sign of where the Cubs are going?

Well, various combinations of Cubs genius of baseball operations Epstein, guru of general managing Hoyer and whiz of scouting/development McLeod acquired Rizzo for three different teams during the past few years.

Their judgment would be awfully suspect if Rizzo remained a .233 hitter like last year with flaws against lefties and with runners in scoring position.

How could Cubs fans trust the organization's reports on prospects like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez if Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod missed on Rizzo?

For now, though, the pendulum has swung back from Cashner to Rizzo, but the process figures to remain fluid.

The last we saw of Rizzo, during Saturday's day-night doubleheader, he went hitless in 7 at-bats.

There's no guarantee that Cashner won't come off the DL and pitch a no-hitter and Rizzo won't go back to being a .233 hitter by season's end.

Probably more than a few beleaguered Cubs fans instinctively feared during the odd Sunday day off that Rizzo won't get another hit this year.

But through the first half of this season, Anthony Rizzo has made acquiring him for Andrew Cashner look good for the Cubs.

It's fair to say that it looks good for Theo Epstein, too, at least until the next update.

Stay tuned for further developments.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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