It's no secret Anthony Rizzo is one of the cornerstones of the Cubs' rebuilding project.
From his first spring training in 2012 to the nonstop "Rizzo Watch" last April and May when he played at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs have been hyping Rizzo as the next big thing.
On Monday they put their money where their mouth is, officially announcing the signing of Rizzo to a 7-year, $41 million deal, with a pair of options years that would add another $27 million, making it a potential total package of 9 years and about $68 million.
"This day has come so fast," Rizzo said. "Looking back on it when I was a young kid dreaming of this day, it's a surreal moment."
President Theo Epstein drafted Rizzo in 2007 when he was the general manager of the Red Sox, with current scouting head Jason McLeod running the draft. Current general manager Jed Hoyer acquired him twice, in San Diego and in Chicago.
"We've known Anthony for a long time," Hoyer said. "Theo, Jason and I have spent a lot of time with this guy and feel like we know him really well. Ultimately you want to build your team around people you trust, people you believe in, and I think today is a really good example that we believe in Anthony."
The two sides began talks in spring training and laid the groundwork for a deal, but Rizzo wasn't satisfied until the Cubs increased their offer in the last 2 weeks. Hoyer said things progressed quickly over the last 10-14 days, and the deal was reached a week ago.
Rizzo said "both sides are very happy with the result," with the Cubs getting "cost certainty" and Rizzo getting security. He battled Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008 while playing for Class A Greenville in the Red Sox system, and that cancer scare was a factor in his decision to sign for less than market value.
"I've had this game taken away from me," he said. "Not being able to play the game has made me appreciate it a lot more."
According to sources, Rizzo receives a $2 million signing bonus and a $750,000 salary in 2013, overriding the $498,000 he agreed to in March. He'll earn $1.25 million in 2014, $5 million in both 2015 and 2016, $7 million in 2017 and 2018, and $11 million in 2019.
The Cubs hold a $14.5 million option for 2020 with a $2 million buyout. If that's exercised, the Cubs have a $14.5 million option for 2021 with a $2 million buyout.
As a Super-2 player, Rizzo was eligible for four arbitration years, where salaries can escalate quickly. Outfielder Hunter Pence, now with the Giants, has made $34.6 million in his four arbitration-eligible years, including $13.8 million this year.
With similar power numbers, Rizzo stood to make even more if he progressed at the same rate, so his seven- to nine-year deal is considered a bargain for the Cubs.
Alfonso Soriano knows the hardships of a long-term contract, having been on the trade block for the last couple of years of his eight-year deal. Soriano said Rizzo "needs to play relaxed and play his game, because he has nothing to worry about (financially) right now."
It took Rizzo only 124 games in a Cubs uniform to convince Epstein to pay him now. Players used to have to wait until free agency to get their huge paydays, but the landscape is rapidly changing, and teams are locking up their young stars quicker than ever, even after only one quality season.
"For the owners and the GMs and presidents, maybe they think the players make less money in the (arbitration) years," Soriano said. "Who knows? But I'm happy for those guys. They play 2, 3 years and get the money."
38 games, 41-for-148 (.277), 9 HR, 28 RBI, 10 2B