Why Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo meets Paul Goldschmidt standard

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Anthony Rizzo: The Goldschmidt standard for Cubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

ST. LOUIS — When Anthony Rizzo looks across the diamond this weekend from the Cubs’ dugout at Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, he sees one of the big reasons the Cards have been in the playoffs the last two years and why they’re in first place today.

“He’s the total package,” Rizzo said.

Whether Rizzo sees in Goldschmidt the $130 million contract comparison to himself that others have made, he’s not saying.

But even Goldschmidt is aware of the comp as he and the Cardinals face Rizzo and the Cubs in the teams’ first meeting of what might be Rizzo’s final season of a storied Cubs career — though Goldschmidt downplays his own assessment.

“Just out here trying to play and win the game tonight,” Goldschmidt said a few hours before lining a double to left in the sixth that drove in the tying run Friday before the Cubs routed the Cardinals with an eight-run eighth for a 12-3 victory to open a three-game series.

Rizzo reached base four times in the win, including a two-run double in the big inning.

“Obviously, I think very highly of him. He’s a great player,” Goldschmidt said. “He’s done it for a very long time. A guy I love to watch play, compete against, try to learn from and have a ton of respect for. … Just an overall great player.”

Mutual admiration societies aside, the proximity this weekend of Rizzo and Goldschmidt is just the latest reminder of extensions the Cubs haven’t gotten done, a championship core that might be dismantled en masse by free agency this year because of that, and a Cubs-Cards rivalry that over the next two months might dictate some of the timing.

Rizzo, the first foundational player in the core the Cubs built for the contending window that opened in 2015, might yet be the most tell-tale member of the walk-year trio of Cubs All-Stars to watch to determine the Cubs’ intentions for their next window.

Whether they intend for the timeline to start anytime soon.

Whether they intend to draw from the team culture they’ve bragged about for years as they lock pieces in place for the next few years.

Whether ownership plans to use its big-revenue resources to let the front office try to compete next year — or whether it’ll shrink in fear of a possible labor shutdown and refuse to commit much of anything.

Some of that speculation was answered with the Cubs’ extension offer to Rizzo before the season began that sources said totaled closer to half the $130 million Goldschmidt got in a five-year extension two years ago from the Cardinals at a similar age, service-time level and career performance arc as Rizzo now.

The offer, which was believed to be for four years, clearly insulted Rizzo, who told media on the eve of the opener that he’d cut off talks and didn’t want to re-engage this season.

Whether that’s the final word when it comes to the man who gloved the final out for the Cubs’ historic 2016 championship, the Cubs may have missed their best shot at securing the continued services of a lineup linchpin with three All-Star appearances, two top-five MVP finishes, a higher career OPS (.855) than Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman (.832) and more Gold Gloves (four) than Goldschmidt (three).

Those are the three contemporary first basemen often talked about in the same breath, at least in the National League, with both Rizzo and Freeman heading toward free agent winters.

“Over the years, since we’re the same age, me, Freeman and Goldschmidt have kind of always been linked together,” Rizzo said in a conversation Friday with NBC Sports Chicago. “We all have our unique traits and are very similar players to our team.

“It’s always fun watching them play and to compete against them, because of the amount of respect I feel we have for one another when we talk to each other, seeing each other play all the time, plus us being the same age, pretty much the same amount of service time, it’s always nice to hear [the comparisons].”

He stopped short of talking about the contract comparisons.

But the first baseman he outperformed in their first 2021 matchup is the closest comparison on multiple levels — not the least of which is that part about being “similar players to our team.”

Goldschmidt before the 2019 season and Nolan Arenado this past winter were acquired in blockbuster trades for a Cardinals team making bold moves to try to retake control of the NL Central from the Cubs — the Goldschmidt move coming with the subsequent extension.

A Rizzo extension likely would not require the full $130 million in today’s less certain economic climate. But some combination of five years and nine figures seems the likely sweet spot.

Goldschmidt on Friday seemed happy he got his deal done when he did — a year before the pandemic and well ahead of a potential labor storm. He did not engage in talk about current markets.

“I really try not to think about it,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

If what happens for the Cubs is a three-star exodus of Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javy Báez after this season, it might well abdicate control of the division to the Cardinals or Brewers for at least the short term — if not signal a more severe rebuild than seems necessary.

At least in one significant way, Rizzo seems to acknowledge the comp between him and Goldschmidt.

“He’s a cornerstone here,” Rizzo said. “The Cardinals have a longstanding tradition of cornerstones, anchored by Yadi [Molina] and [Adam] Wainwright, from the outside looking in.

“But you bring over Goldy, you bring in over Arenado — and they’ve brought in guys in the past — they’ve brought in some heavy hitters.”

Guys that matter for teams that win. Guys that matter to teams trying to sustain success.

“Good guys matter,” Rizzo said. “Good teammates, good players, good attitudes matter.”

As for the way the Cubs have approached the matter with their own core: Good luck with that.

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