Cubs Acquire Anthony Rizzo From Padres

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer continued their makeover of the Chicago Cubs roster by acquiring first baseman Anthony Rizzo and minor-league pitcher Zach Cates from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Cashner is 25 year old former first round draft pick who has great stuff, but one who has struggled with injuries and control in his time with Cubs. Rizzo is a familiar player for Epstein and Hoyer as the Red Sox drafted him when Epstein was GM and was acquired by the Padres during Hoyer’s tenure as Padres’ GM as a major player in the Adrian Gonzales trade. Rizzo’s 2011 was mixed, as he combined a breakout year in Triple-A with a horrendous cup of coffee in San Diego as he “hit” .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances. Given the horror that Petco Park is for left-handed sluggers, the move to Wrigley Field should sit well with Rizzo.

Despite his struggles at the big league level last year, Rizzo has rocketed through the minor leagues reaching Double-A as a 20 year old and seeing the majors at age 21. Rizzo’s 2011 was one of the best offensive seasons in the Pacific Coast League despite him being the youngest everyday player in the league at age 21. As Noah Isaacs demonstrated nicely, very few players make it to AAA at such a tender age. A quick look at the new minor league leaderboards demonstrate that most of the best offensive performers in the PCL last year were several years older than Rizzo. In fact, the offensive performance that most closely mirrors Rizzo’s was that of Cubs farmhand and fellow first baseman Bryan LaHair. As the table below demonstrates, the only significant difference between Rizzo and LaHair last year was age, with Rizzo looking like a prospect and LaHair profiling as a classic AAAA hitter.

Bryan Lahair Cubs (AAA) 28 129 456 523 151 38 38 11.5 0.331 21.2 0.405 0.664 1.07 0.361 0.443
Anthony Rizzo Padres (AAA) 21 93 356 413 118 34 26 10.4 0.331 21.5 0.404 0.652 1.056 0.369 0.433

By acquiring Rizzo, Epstein and company seemingly contradict Epstein’s insistence on Wednesday that he does not believe in the concept of AAAA hitters, as the Cubs have little need for two slugging first basemen. Cubs GM Jed Hoyer says that Rizzo will start the year in Triple-A, but it seems clear that the Cubs see Rizzo as their first baseman of the future, with that future likely beginning sometime during the 2012 season. LaHair will make for a cheap insurance policy in the event that Rizzo’s 2011 power surge (he had never slugged more than .500 until last year) was a fluke. This is a minor quibble, as there is much to like about this trade if you are a Cubs fan. Cashner may evolve into a useful reliever for the Padres, but relievers are fungible. Trading a reliever with injury and control problems for a young, slugging first baseman is almost always a good idea.

The acquisition of Rizzo means that the Cubs are now officially out of the Prince Fielder derby and fully in rebuilding mode. As I noted in an earlier piece, the Cubs roster needs a major overhaul, not just minor tweaks in order to be competitive. The trade for Rizzo, the dumping of Carlos Zambrano, and the trade rumors surrounding Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza suggest that Epstein and Hoyer are wasting little time beginning to rebuild the Cubs roster.

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I am political science professor at the University of North Carolina. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS and acquired Red Sox fandom during the 1986 World Series. My other hobbies include cooking, good red wine, curing meats, and obsessing over Alabama football---Roll Tide! Follow me on Twitter @ProfJRoberts.

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How sure are we that the Padres don’t think Cashner’s a starter in the long run?