Anthony Rizzo, who turned down storybook reunion with Red Sox, now hopes to lead Yankees through playoffs
Rizzo’s memories of his time with the Red Sox are good. He was selected by the team in the sixth round of the 2007 draft. He suffered the shock of being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma while playing for Greenville Drive in 2008, but recovered – helped by the support of the team – and became one of the system’s top prospects in 2009-10.
He still has ties to the Red Sox even after being traded to the Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal in November 2010. He crossed paths with current Sox players Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vázquez in the minors and worked with current Red Sox coaches Carlos. Febles and Tom Goodwin. Rizzo and his family have kept in touch with Red Sox assistant general manager Raquel Ferreira.
Certainly, members of the Sox organization recognized an appealing story – and a potential fit – amid the rumors.
“It’s always nice to see guys coming home to where it all started, especially how good a player he is,” Febles said. “It would have been nice to have it back – like [recent Red Sox returnee] Travis Shaw, a guy who started his career with us.
Yet while Rizzo holds the Red Sox organization in high regard, he hasn’t gone too far in considering the idea of a return to them. His major league identity had been forged as a member of the Cubs.
While he was fully aware that Chicago could engage in a trade deadline fire sale, Rizzo believed there was a chance he would stay with the Cubs at least until the end of the season, helping to stabilize the identity of a franchise in transition.
“It was crazy – the whole experience of not being traded before pretty much [just before the trade deadline]. I didn’t expect it until it happened… When it happened, I wasn’t naive about it, but it wasn’t an idea in my head, ”said Rizzo. “It happened this year with New York, and it looks great on me.”
The Yankees’ trade for Rizzo stunned many in the industry. It was not known that New York was looking for a first baseman. The Red Sox, on the other hand, had made no secret of their interest in acquiring a left-handed first baseman, with Rizzo representing an apparent target.
But the Yankees had hoped to strike a balance in their roster with the addition of a left-handed hitter, and the team wanted a defensive upgrade as well. Rizzo accomplished both.
The Yankees sent two highly regarded prospects – 18-year-old outfielder Kevin Alcantara and 24-year-old starting pitcher Alexander Vizcaino – to the Cubs, who agreed to pay Rizzo’s salary in order to improve the prospects’ return.
Rizzo had an instant impact on a resurgent Yankees team. He did a home run in his first two games and gave the green light in his third, all wins. In nine games before testing positive for COVID-19, he hit 0.281 / 0.400 / 0.563 with three homers, with the Yankees going 8-1.
“He came in and did exactly what they hoped for,” Febles said. “He was a great contributor and helped them right away. “
On Wednesday, after his stint on the COVID-19 injured list ended, Rizzo was back in Yankees lineup, beating second and playing first.
“It’s a little weird to see him [in a Yankees uniform]”Ferreira said.” But I know her family is from New Jersey. They, especially her dad, are probably pretty excited.
The Red Sox were probably less excited about how things turned out on Wednesday night. With the Yankees in possession of a 2-1 lead in the second, Rizzo bounced a hard ground down along the first baseline. His Red Sox counterpart, Bobby Dalbec, couldn’t handle it, resulting in a two-run single that gave the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
Naturally, the play raised the question again: Could Rizzo have been a Red Sox?
With the Sox working to rebuild their farm system, the team was not going to match the Yankees’ two prospect package for a player who will be a free agent this winter. Instead, the team distributed a hopeful starting pitcher – right-hander Aldo Ramirez – to the Nationals to land Kyle Schwarber, a player who (now back on the injured list) is meeting the team’s need. ‘a left-handed stick, although inexperienced at first base.
Rizzo and Schwarber – teammates with the Cubs from 2015-2020 – spent some time catching up at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon between matches in the doubles program. Did Schwarber ask for advice on playing first?
“He hasn’t done it yet. He probably should, ”Rizzo joked, before a vote of confidence in Schwarber’s defensive skills. “[But] he’s a good athlete. He’s a much better athlete than people think.
Schwarber and Rizzo will now have the opportunity to shape their teams’ hopes of pushing towards October. The former teammates welcome their new dynamic.
“Seeing him here with the Yankees and me with the Red Sox is fun,” said Schwarber. “We know we’re going to fight each other here down the stretch. It’s gonna be fun.”
“I’m definitely going to take a moment during the game to look around and take in the atmosphere, listen to the chatter of the Red Sox-Yankee fans in the stands and enjoy it all,” said Rizzo.
More than a decade after his stint as the Red Sox minor leaguer, Rizzo did it from an unexpected perspective.
Alex Speier can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.