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Red Sox Trade Target: Anthony Rizzo

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Is a reunion between Rizzo and the Red Sox on the horizon?

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Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Anthony Rizzo was once involved in a trade the Red Sox made to improve their first base situation, and now he could very well be a part of another such deal. In the first one, Rizzo was sent to San Diego as part of the package that brought Adrián Gonzalez to Boston. At the time, Rizzo was a valued prospect still in search of his first MLB appearance. Shortly after that deal, he was traded to the Cubs in 2012 and became one of the best first basemen in baseball, eventually helping the Cubs win the 2016 World Series (their first since 1908 if you missed that for some reason).

Although Rizzo has been an integral part of the core of the Cubs’ recent run of contention, that window looks to be closing, if it hasn’t closed already. Chicago is hovering around .500 and sitting 10.5 games back of the first place Brewers in the National League Central. As the team flounders around mediocrity, multiple players have been rumored to be available via trade, including third baseman Kris Bryant and Rizzo himself. In fact, Chicago has already started dealing, sending reliever Andrew Chafin to the Oakland A’s earlier this week.

Bryant might be the more sought after player the Cubs are rumored to be shopping, depending on who you ask, but Rizzo is still very good and could immediately help a contender, especially one that needs a first baseman. That brings us to why Rizzo would make perfect sense as a trade target for the Red Sox.

Red Sox first basemen have been pretty terrible this year. They are dead last in all of baseball in combined fWAR this season (-1.4), with the collective efforts of Bobby Dalbec, Marwin Gonzalez, Danny Santana, Michael Chavis, Christian Arroyo and even Franchy Cordero leaving much to be desired. Although Dalbec and highly touted prospect Triston Casas should be part of the long-term solution at the position, the Red Sox are in the midst of a (no longer surprising) run toward the American League East crown. Leaving a largely negative spot in the lineup, especially one at such a premium offensive position, could be the difference between securing the division title and letting the Rays, Blue Jays or Yankees climb past them.

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Rizzo, who will turn 32 in August, has fallen a bit off the pace that made him a regular All-Star and MVP candidate earlier in his career when you could lock him in for 30 home runs and a roughly 130 to 140 wRC+ year in and year out, but he is still a really good first baseman. This season, he’s been about 15 percent above league average as a hitter (115 wRC+), slashing .248/.346/.446 with 14 home runs. It’s been a solid bounce-back from last year when he posted a 103 wRC+ during the shortened 2020 campaign. Plus, let’s not forget, he is only two years removed from producing a 142 wRC+ in 2019.

Still, there are some holes to find in his game, especially as his walk rate is hovering just below 10 percent. If that held, it would mark only the second time in his career that he’s had a number under the 10 percent threshold for a full season. Even with that fun fact, though, he’s not that far off his usual pace. He’s also not striking out all that much more than usual (15.7 percent strikeout rate), providing for relatively solid comparisons with the rest of the league. In addition, he’s still squaring up the ball well, ranking in the 82nd percentile in average exit velocity. With numbers like that and some of his other marks, you could actually make the argument that Rizzo is hitting better than his statistics currently show. After all, Rizzo has an expected wOBA of .353, but his actual wOBA mark is sitting 10 points below at .343.

Rizzo’s bat is the primary reason the Red Sox would want to acquire him, but they would also be getting a good defender in a potential deal as well. Rizzo is a four-time Gold Glove winner and he is in the 95th percentile in Outs Above Average this season. The Red Sox could use some improved defense at the position, even if Dalbec has had more than a few highlight reel plays at first base this year. Compared with the first basemen of other teams, Boston first basemen are currently last in MLB in defensive runs saved (-8). Rizzo has also posted a negative number (-2), but he would still be an upgrade, especially if he gets back to his usual fielding powers which helped him post a positive number in DRS in every other season of his career.

Based on his current contract status, a trade for Rizzo would likely be a rental for the Red Sox. Rizzo is in the last season of a seven-year deal, and with Casas and Dalbec still in the mix, the Red Sox aren’t likely to invest in Rizzo over the long term, especially as he’ll probably demand a relatively hefty sum on the free agent market. Despite the short-term nature of a potential reunion between Rizzo and the Red Sox, rumors have been circulating all week connecting the Cubs first baseman with Boston. However, it’s unclear just what the asking price would be for Rizzo and just how much the Red Sox would be willing to give up for him.

Because he’s a recognizable and still productive star, the Cubs’ demands will probably far exceed what the Red Sox are prepared to offer, especially as Chaim Bloom continues to fortify the foundation of the organization. For example, if Chicago goes after Jarren Duran or Casas, the Red Sox would likely hang up without responding. However, the Red Sox are in a much better spot prospect-wise right now than they were even a year ago, and the Cubs don’t have as much leverage since Rizzo will be a free agent after this season, so perhaps the two teams could find the right deal.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t in a Rizzo or bust situation. They’ve done just fine with the meager production they’ve gotten out of first base to this point and there are other potential additions out there who could slot in and play first without as much fanfare attached to a potential trade. In fact, as Matt wrote earlier this week, Carlos Santana might be the perfect fit for the Red Sox. However, with the Cubs supposedly in sell now mode and the Red Sox having a glaring need at first base, it’s likely that Rizzo’s name will keep coming up until a deal gets done, someone else trades for him or the deadline expires.