WASHINGTON - After spending much of the weekend talking about the rise of the Washington Nationals as a role model for their own rebuilding process, the Cubs showed an even more aggressive approach than the Nats took.
Sources confirmed Sunday night that the team has reached agreement with building-block first-baseman Anthony Rizzo on a seven-year, $41-million contract extension plus two option years that could bring the total value to around $70 million.
The deal comes only nine months after the club extended All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro for seven years, $60 million - and underscores the different landscape in acquiring and locking up players that has emerged even since Washington went from worst to first in a three-year span that culminated with last year's 98-win season and playoff berth.
It's a rare commitment for a player with the service time of the power-hitting Rizzo, who has yet to play a full season in the big leagues.
It's also a potential bargain if the Cubs are right about a player who - less than a month ago - was called out by the manager as being a candidate for demotion to the minors.
"I don't think [anyone's] invincible if you're not performing," manager Dale Sveum said April 21 when asked about the status - and recent mistakes - of Castro and Rizzo. "It's not about what we think can happen three or four years from now. It's time to perform on a consistent basis."
Rizzo was hitting .210 at the time with more strikeouts (18) than hits (13).
Even after going hitless in Sunday's 2-1 victory over Washington, he was up to .280 and led the team with nine homers and 28 RBIs. He had an .890 OPS.
"He's just getting more comfortable," Sveum said in the days leading up to finalizing the new contract. "
Still in desperate search for the long-term pitching depth that's expected to signal the competitive turnaround for a club working on its fourth straight losing season, the Cubs at least have seemed to secure a position-player base that also includes top prospect Javy Baez, a power-hitting infielder, and high-upside catcher Welington Castillo.
Second baseman Darwin Barney and outfield prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora are also expected to be part of the core if the Cubs can find enough pitching depth to compete within the next two or three years.
The Cubs have targeted Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija for a contract extension - with Samardzija reluctant to give a hometown discount.
Assuring some payroll predictability with Castro and Rizzo under long-term deals, that could pave the way for renewed - and possibly more substantive talks - with Samardzija before next season.