Joe Maddon says Anthony Rizzo the 'anchor' that should have stayed

Joe Maddon says Rizzo 'anchor' Cubs should have kept originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

One of Joe Maddon’s big disappointments managing the Cubs, he said, is that he and the core didn’t get the chance to keep going after 2019.

He also believes the players from that group they’ll miss the most in their financially motivated rebuild are shortstop Javy Báez and — maybe most of all — Anthony Rizzo, he said.

“Rizz is kind of an anchor,” Maddon said during a guest appearance on the latest Cubs Talk Podcast. “You see what he’s doing with the Yankees right now; it’s no surprise. You’ve got [Dodgers new first baseman Freddie] Freeman. You’ve got [Braves new first baseman] Matt Olson. And you’ve got Rizzo. And Rizz is the one guy that’s standing right now.

“With Anthony, you just watch his demeanor in these big games,” he added. “You can see he’s still doing that gig where he charges from first base on potential but; people had no idea what he was doing. Anthony’s just out there playing baseball, and that’s what I love about him, and that’s never going to go away.

“So he’s a hard one to lose.”

Rizzo was traded to the Yankees at the deadline in 2021 a few months after turning down a five-year, $70 million extension offer, then re-signed with the Yankees on a two-year, $32 million deal before this season.

"You want 26 Rizzos,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said when the Yankees were in town to face the White Sox this year. “But they don’t exist. So when someone like him comes along, it’s a little bit of a unicorn, to have the talent and the character and the makeup at the levels he has them — yeah, you want to try to hold on to that if you can.”

Maddon, who has been on a media tour since publishing a new book, also high high praise for — and made the case for keeping — Báez, the Gold Glove, All-Star shortstop, who eventually signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Tigers after the Cubs traded him to the Mets about 18 hours after trading Rizzo last year.

Baéz, who was “five days" away from an extension agreement with the Cubs when the pandemic shut down spring training in 2020, struggled in his first season with the Tigers — but maybe in part for predictable reasons, Maddon suggested.

“I think Javy misses the stage [of Wrigley Field]. I think Javy misses the adrenaline — and quite frankly the guys around him,” said Maddon, who identified Báez as a favorite talent in the organization when he first set eyes on him during the 2014-15 winter ball season. “There was a lot of accountability among the group. And Javy’s a guy that you want to make a generational player in an organization.

“And I know he had a tough year last year, but I think there’s mitigating circumstances to that, that would not have occurred had he remained with the same group.”

Maddon also raved about catcher Willson Contreras and the rare combination of skills for a catcher.

“I could go on and on. I could evaluate each guy,” Maddon said. “The one guy to me: Anthony was almost like the next Billy Williams or something like that. Their Mr. Cub. And it’s too bad that he had to leave.”

Then, again, same goes for Maddon having to leave in his mind.

It’s he ultimate what-if game to play with the Cubs the last few years after failed extension talks with several players and, ultimately, the big-revenue ownership reacting to “biblical” pandemic losses by compelling the front office to blow up the team instead of weathering the short-term losses as other big-market teams did.

“I thought we should have had more time and that group staying together really could have continued to do good things — being augmented. Of course, you want to go out and get a couple different things that you need,” Maddon said.

The Cubs had gone to the playoffs four consecutive years before that, including three straight NLCS appearances before a 95-win 2018 that might have been Maddon’s best managing job of the stretch — before running out of steam, health and quality depth during another winning 2019 season.

Consider also: The most recent changes to the pitching infrastructure in the organization that is starting to produce homegrown results already were underway at that point.

“That group needed to stay together longer,” Maddon said of the All-Star championship core. “And I’m not responsible for money and finances and how that’s all supposed to fit. But I really believe had we been able to rebound a bit, and like I said, augment it in certain areas, that group could have stayed together and been pretty good for a lot longer.

“I think it’s all based on money,” he added, “among the group, who could have stayed longer, who should have stayed longer.”

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