Cubs acquire Rizzo in trade with Padres
Club expects first baseman to start season in Triple-A
CHICAGO -- Jed Hoyer admitted he may have made a mistake calling Anthony Rizzo up to the big leagues last season with the Padres, but that didn't deter the new Cubs general manager from wanting the young first baseman in his organization.
For the second time in less than two years, Hoyer traded for Rizzo, as the Cubs acquired the first baseman plus Minor League pitcher Zach Cates from the Padres on Friday for pitcher Andrew Cashner and Minor League outfielder Kyung-Min Na.
Rizzo, rated the top first-base prospect in the league by MLB.com, is not projected as the Cubs' starting first baseman in 2012. That job belongs to Bryan LaHair, the Pacific Coast League MVP who hit 38 homers for Triple-A Iowa last season. But the addition of Rizzo should end speculation that the Cubs are in the mix for free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder. Rizzo is the Cubs' first baseman of the future, Hoyer said. Giving Fielder a multi-year deal, which has been rumored, would block the young infielder, who still needs some development.
"The way we see it is Bryan had a terrific year last year in Triple-A and has been terrific this year in Venezuela," Hoyer said. "We see him as our first baseman. It's likely Anthony will start the year in Triple-A.
"To be candid, I don't think I did Anthony any favors when I was the GM of the Padres," Hoyer said.
Hoyer was on the Red Sox staff in 2007 with Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod, who now are both in the Cubs' front office as president of baseball operations and scouting and player development director, respectively. That year, the Red Sox drafted Rizzo, who was then traded to the Padres in December 2010 in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. Hoyer was the Padres' GM at that time.
Rizzo, 22, was called up in early June because San Diego needed some offensive help at first base. But he batted .143 in 35 games in June and July, and was sent back to the Minors.
"It was too early," Hoyer said, "and a mistake on my part, and I don't think I did Anthony any favors there."
For the season at Triple-A Tucson, Rizzo batted .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs and 101 RBIs in 93 games.
"I got called up to the big leagues last year and struggled a little bit," Rizzo said Friday. "I wouldn't say some people wrote me off, but some people I guess lost some faith in me. For them to still have that faith, with everything they helped me through, it just shows me how loyal they are and how honored I am to play for them.
"This is such a big business," Rizzo said. "I've seen it now for the last five years how much of a business it is. Everyone I've spoken to talks about how professional Theo is, how straightforward he is with everyone. It means a lot to me to be with them again."
When he was drafted out of high school, McLeod, then Boston's scouting director, said the infielder had the best makeup of any player he'd been around.
"He makes a big impression on his teammates, he's an incredibly hard worker," Hoyer said. "Overcoming cancer was incredibly impressive, but I think it's a mistake if you just allude to his makeup that he overcame cancer. He's a very strong person. I think he's a leader, and he's someone who can help put this organization and our team on the right path as far as our culture. He's a very impressive individual."
In 2008, Rizzo was limited to 21 Minor League games after being diagnosed with Limited Stage Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma in late April. He returned in '09 to lead all Red Sox Minor Leaguers with a .368 on-base percentage and ranked third in the system with a .297 batting average between Class A Greenville and Class A Salem.
"From the very bottom of the organization to the very top, to the ownership, when I was sick, they didn't only help me out, they helped my family out and made sure everything was going to be OK," Rizzo said. "To be back with the main people who were around me is just an honor. It's a real exciting opportunity and I hope to make the best of it."
Cashner, 25, won a spot in the Cubs' rotation in 2011 but had to be shut down after one start because of a strained right rotator cuff. If he had stayed with the Cubs, he would be pitching out of the bullpen, Hoyer said.
Cashner is the second first-round pick by the Cubs the new front office has traded. They sent Tyler Colvin, the club's No. 1 pick in 2006, to the Rockies last month in exchange for third baseman Ian Stewart.
But the chance to get someone who Theo & Co. feel has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order run producer was too good to pass up. Hoyer said the Cubs talked to the Padres about possibly acquiring Rizzo before San Diego made its deal with Cincinnati and acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso.
Rizzo will get plenty of at-bats this spring, but Hoyer cautioned that hitting in Mesa, Ariz., is not the same as hitting in Wrigley Field.
"In general, I think winning jobs in Spring Training is a dangerous thing, especially with hitters in Arizona," Hoyer said. "You have to go a lot based on what you've seen in the past. The ball flies there and a lot of hitters look really good and a lot of things can deceive you in Arizona."
Rizzo wasn't sure what to expect after the Padres added Alonso.
"I figured something would happen, but I wasn't completely sure," Rizzo said. "I just went on with my offseason and trained as hard as I'm training to prepare for next year, wherever it was. Now I'm a Cub and hopefully will remain a Cub for many years to come."
That's the plan.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.