Anthony Rizzo hit .342 with a 1.101 OPS in 74 games at Triple-A this season after hitting .331 with a 1.056 OPS in 93 games at Triple-A last year, yet the Cubs took their sweet time calling him up.
Rizzo finally arrived on June 26 and has hit .300 with 14 homers, 11 doubles, and an .843 OPS in 72 games, wiping away any worries stemming from his terrible 49-game debut with the Padres last season and making it clear that he’ll be in the middle of the Cubs’ lineup for a long time.
He had the best game of his young career yesterday, going 3-for-5 with two homers and six RBIs against the Pirates, and the 23-year-old followed up an August slump by hitting .359 with five homers in his last 16 games.
San Diego soured on Rizzo last season, trading him to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner and acquiring Yonder Alonso from the Reds to replace him as their long-term first baseman. Cashner remains a very promising young arm, but Alonso is two-and-a-half years older than Rizzo and has hit .273 with eight homers and a modest .742 OPS in 140 games for the Padres, albeit while calling pitcher-friendly Petco Park home.
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.
There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.
Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.
ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.
Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.
The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.
Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.