Cubs’ Hoyer confident deal with Rizzo will be worked out

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer insisted Wednesday he is confident Anthony Rizzo will remain in Chicago beyond this season even though the star first baseman is cutting off talks on a new contract.

Though his preference is to stay with the Cubs, Rizzo set an opening-day deadline for a new agreement. The three-time All-Star said this week he won’t listen to an offer once the season starts unless the proposal is close to what he thinks it should be.

“I don’t think there’s any bigger Anthony Rizzo supporter out there than I am,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, I want him playing first base for the Chicago Cubs for a long time, in 2022 and beyond. I’ve made that really clear to him throughout the process.”

Hoyer said he is “very confident” a deal will get done. He also said he respects Rizzo’s decision to limit talks once the season starts Thursday, though the Cubs will remain open to negotiating during the year.

“We have no reason not to talk in season,” Hoyer said.

Rizzo, who in 2016 helped the Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908, agreed in March 2013 to a $41 million, seven-year contract that included two team option years. He has a $16.5 million salary this season.

Rizzo, who turns 32 in August, hit .222 with 11 homers and 24 RBIs during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The three-time All-Star has a .271 career average with 229 homers and 753 RBIs in 10 major league seasons.

He’s not the only Cubs star with an expiring contract.

Third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Javier Baez also are entering the final season of their deals. Bryant has a $19.5 million salary and Baez $11.65 million.

“As with Anthony, we have a lot of great players in contract years,” Hoyer said. “Certainly, our hope is we can have some of those players beyond 2021.”

Like Rizzo, Bryant (.206, four homers, 11 RBIs) and Baez (.203, eight homers, 24 RBIs) struggled in the pandemic-shortened season. Bryant was bothered by injuries and Baez struck out 75 times in 59 games.

The Cubs still managed to win the NL Central after missing the playoffs in 2019. But they ranked among the worst in the majors with a .220 batting average. In their first-round playoff series against Miami, they managed just one run in a two-game sweep.

How Rizzo, Bryant and Baez perform in the early going could go a long way toward determining whether the Cubs look to add or trade players prior to the deadline. The fact that their contracts are expiring adds another layer of uncertainty.

“That’s something we’re gonna have to live with as a team,” Hoyer said. “We have so many guys in free agent years. That’s gonna have to be something that this team is able to handle.”

The Cubs traded ace Yu Darvish to San Diego in the offseason. Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber signed with the Washington Nationals. And fans made it clear they weren’t happy with their team’s spending.

But when it comes to Rizzo, Hoyer remains confident.

“I have expressed to him over and over that we want to have him back,” he said. “I have confidence that we will bring him back. We’ve expressed how we see the path to a deal.”

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.