SAN FRANCISCO — Conventional wisdom says the Chicago Cubs can not afford to keep all three of their big free agents — Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo.
And the way the organization acted last offseason in dealing ace Yu Darvish, it’s easy to see them retaining only one of the three after all is said and done.
But Rizzo, who is seen as the likeliest survivor because he won’t command the same kind of megadeal as his younger teammates, doesn’t know why the Cubs can’t re-sign all three.
“If they want to, absolutely they can,” Rizzo said Friday afternoon during a pregame interview in the box seats at Oracle Park. “The game is thriving with all the TV deals, the revenue (streams). If that’s their out and it’s time to go, so be it.
“I just think it’s so out of our control. I know this question is going to be asked now, and at the All-Star break, and at the trade deadline and into September and October. But it’s really out of our control. Just do what’s best for yourself, what’s best for the next guy coming up, for the game and for your own mindset.”
A few hours later, Rizzo was caught by TV cameras jawing with catcher Willson Contreras in the Cubs dugout, a verbal confrontation between two emotional veterans and longtime teammates. Rizzo and manager David Ross declined to reveal what the disagreement was about, and Contreras wasn’t available to talk.
Speculation was that Rizzo was upset with Contreras’s visible reaction to the questionable strike zone of plate umpire C.B. Bucknor, which preceded reliever Tommy Nance getting squeezed on some pitches. Was Contreras’s response to Bucknor hurting his own pitchers?
As the most tenured Cubs player and one of the team’s vocal leaders, Rizzo seemingly decided to let Contreras know what he thought of the situation. Contreras responded by yelling back at Rizzo, forcing Ross to gently push Rizzo to the other side of the dugout.
“The beauty of this team is we know each other and have played with each other for so long that we could have those brotherly love conversations,” Rizzo said in a postgame conference call. “We were down in the tunnel a little bit talking. It ends there and we move on. With our relationship here, it’s easy to talk to each other like we’re brothers.”
Whether the incident becomes a minor blip in the long season remains to be seen, but on Saturday both players appeared to have moved on. Player spats aren’t uncommon, and former White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura had a similar shouting match with Frank Thomas in the Yankee Stadium dugout in 1996 when Ventura tried to keep the overheated Thomas from being ejected by the plate umpire.
When it’s caught by TV cameras, the story can be amplified for days or weeks. When handled correctly, it can disappear by the next game.
Rizzo said before the season that he planned to enjoy what could be his last year in Chicago, no matter what happens on the field. So far that hasn’t been difficult. The Cubs went into Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants in first place in the National League Central, and Rizzo recovered from a slow start and back issues, hitting .309 in his last 23 games.
But with five home runs and 21 RBIs, he needs to produce more to get the kind of deal he expects. The Cubs reportedly offered $70 million for five years, according to The Athletic, which is why they haven’t come close to an agreement.
Still, it’s hard to imagine team President Jed Hoyer letting Rizzo go after Hoyer traded for him both as general manager in San Diego and with the Cubs. Hoyer also worked in Boston when the Red Sox drafted Rizzo.
“They are in their position for a reason, and they make their best calculated decisions based on all the information they’ve gathered over the years,” Rizzo said of former Cubs President Theo Epstein and Hoyer. “And they do a real good job of it.”
How has his relationship with Hoyer been affected by the contract impasse?
“We have a great relationship,” Rizzo said. “Obviously we’ve been through a lot. It’s been great, and it will be great no matter what, whether we continue together or not.”
As the season goes on and the Cubs travel to different cities, it’s human nature for their free agents to wonder what life would be like for them in that town.
“There are definitely moments when you think about it,” Rizzo said. “But not as much as I thought, not that I’ve ever been in this situation. It’s really been just normal, just playing baseball. Don’t get too high when you’re doing good, don’t get too low when you’re going bad. As fast as those thoughts come in, they goes out just as fast.
In a blink of an eye, Rizzo went from the designated savior of the rebuild to the star of a World Series champion to possible trade bait. It has been nearly nine years since Rizzo made his much-heralded debut with the Cubs, and he’s the only one left from June 26, 2012.
“I’m here to stay,’' he said on his first day as a Cub.
He stayed. He won. And now, like Bryant and Báez, his future is up in the air. Rizzo’s journey has been one most players would dream of, and it isn’t over by a long shot.
“I don’t see myself playing anywhere else, but it’s a business,” he said. “I just feel like when it comes to that type of stuff, just go play and be myself.”