The Anthony Rizzo “Dilemma”

Everyone and their brother has been chiming in on what to do with prized prospect Anthony Rizzo so I guess it’s time that I do the same.  I don’t think the question of “is Rizzo ready” makes sense, Rizzo is ready to face big league pitching.  His numbers over the last two seasons in Triple-A prove that, even if he wasn’t successful last year in San Diego in just under 100 at bats.  The main concern for Rizzo entering this season was to improve against left-handed pitching.  Well, in 47 at bats this year against lefties he is hitting .327 with 4 home runs and 11 RBI’s, as well as a .377 OBP, and a .969 OPS.  I guess you would consider that acceptable, and an improvement.  Not to mention his full season numbers are down right gaudy.  A .352 average, 15 home runs, 42 RBI’s, and an OPS of 1.115 make a promotion at this point a no-brainer.  So what are the issues standing in the way of Rizzo, let’s take a look.

First let’s get this out-of-the-way, here is the important information you need to know about the major league baseball roster rules and how they pertain to arbitration.

Players who have at least three years, but fewer than six, of Major League service time, are eligible to file for arbitration. In addition, there are the so-called “Super Two” players. These are the top 17 percent of players, based on service time, with at least two but fewer than three years of service. The rule states that a player must have at least 86 days of service in the immediately preceding season to qualify for this status. Typically, the cut-off for the top 17 percent has been around two years, 130 days of total service, though the days fluctuate from year to year.

You might want to keep that handy so you can refer back to it.

Issue # 1 – Team Control

Currently the Cubs have team control over Anthony Rizzo until the 2018 season.  That could change depending on when the Cubs call Rizzo up to the big leagues.  Because Rizzo accumulated 68 days of service last year with the Padres he would need another 104 days of service to qualify for one year of MLB service.  He could get that this year, that’s why June 21 is such an important date.  If the Cubs call up Rizzo before June 21st, they will lose a year of control, so know they would only have control over Rizzo until 2017.  If I had to guess, I would think the Cubs are not really focusing too much on this date as if Rizzo belongs here he will be extended before then.

Issue # 2 – “Super Two” Status

This was touched on in the roster rules explanation above, told you to keep it handy.  If the first issue of team control was concern over losing Rizzo, this issue would be a concern over paying Rizzo, a lot, and sooner than later.  You want to know how important this can be, here’s an example from Jonathan Mayo.

Tim Lincecum made his Major League debut on May 6, 2007. Mark Reynolds came up on May 16 of that season and Ryan Braun followed on May 25.

Jump forward three years and Lincecum, following back-to-back Cy Young Awards, is now making $9 million a year as part of a two-year, $23 million extension, after making $650,000 in 2009. Ryan Braun went from $1,032,500 in 2009 to $1,287,500 as part of the eight-year extension he signed in 2008. And Reynolds? He was set to make $500,000 this year before his contract was reworked in a three-year extension. He’ll make the same base salary this season (he gets a nice signing bonus) before it jumps in the following years.

Lincecum had two years, 148 days of service, making him a Super Two. Reynolds was at two years, 138 days, just short of qualifying.

That’s an 8 million dollar difference, sure that might not be considered a lot for a team like the Cubs but it’s still something to consider.  So this begs the question, when would Rizzo need to be called up to avoid this “super two” status?  Late August if the Cubs want to be completely free and clear of running into this issue with Rizzo.  I would think the Cubs would be concerned about this, especially with eating big contracts of late, but again, if Rizzo is going to be worth the money anyway does it really matter?  I think it’s totally different with a hitter than a pitcher, hitting usually doesn’t disappear while pitching could go bye-bye with one snap in an elbow.

Issue # 3 – Playing Time

Everyone knows that Anthony Rizzo can hit, well he is also a gold glove calibre first baseman, so that is where he is going to play when he is called up to the Cubs.  Currently Bryan LaHair has been a pleasant surprise at first base so Rizzo would be blocked at this point.  Now that “block” is not really a huge deal because guys can move around, but Rizzo won’t be one of them.  Best guess would be DeJesus moving to CF, LaHair moving to RF, and Rizzo playing 1B, and Tony Campana becomes what he is which is a specialist off the bench.  By the time Brett Jackson is ready to assume full-time duties in CF DeJesus will be gone or Soriano will be gone so there will be an opening.  Dale Sveum is focused on the playing time, ‘‘He’s really done everything he can down there. But once again, when you bring somebody like that up, he’s got to play every day.‘‘That’s the million-dollar question: How do we get him that playing time?’’  To me this is the most important aspect of this whole process, Rizzo needs to play everyday, good or bad, or his promotion doesn’t make any sense.

Issue # 4 – Will Rizzo Help the Cubs?

I think a lot of people looking at the situation are ignoring this issue, and I think you really have to take this into consideration.  Will Anthony Rizzo help a team that is arguably the worst in baseball?  Probably not, I mean he is one player, the Cubs are more than one player away from being a contending team, that’s just a fact at this point.  Fans expecting Rizzo to come up and blow the doors off the Cubs offense are probably going to be disappointed.  Is it worth it for the Cubs to risk all of the above factors to bring Rizzo up so they can win 5-10 more games this season but still finish at the bottom of the NL?  I don’t know the answer to that, but winning isn’t exactly a priority this year, like it or not.

As you can see there are many issues standing in the way of a Rizzo promotion at this point.  Personally I don’t think any one outweighs the other.  The Cubs have continued to preach patience, not only with the teams current success rate, but also with bringing Rizzo up.  In my opinion I think the Cubs are doing the right thing here and really have no good reason to bring Rizzo up at this point.  The one thing I will say is this, Rizzo needs to be in the big leagues, he’s 22, he’s a can’t miss prospect, he needs to be learning on the job now because there is nothing left from him to improve upon in the minor leagues.  That being said, if bringing him up “early” means the Cubs can’t afford to keep him or another player, maybe a pitcher around down the road then it might not be a bad idea to wait until after that June 21st date.  What’s another 3-4 weeks with this team, it’s not going to make a difference in the standings, at least I don’t think it will.  That is the logical side of me speaking, the other side says I’m tired of watching dull, entertainment-less baseball, I want to watch Rizzo, and I want to watch him now.

My prediction:  Cubs will call Rizzo up on or around June 1, if not, June 22.

Thanks for reading,
– George


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