Epstein Brings Rizzo Back In The Fold





CHICAGO—When Theo Epstein was an intern in the media department with the Padres, he and entry-level scouting administrator Jason McLeod fell in love with Adrian Gonzalez.

Over time, Gonzalez became Epstein's Moby Dick, and he finally landed him a year ago. In his third month as the Cubs' president of baseball operations, he pulled off the same kind of deal, but on a smaller scale. Epstein didn't get Gonzalez from Boston, but at least he retrieved the guy he had to throw overboard to get him from the Padres.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who went from the Red Sox to the Padres in the 4-for-1 Gonzalez trade, joined the Cubs in a deal for power righthander Andrew Cashner, who rose quickly to the big leagues only to encounter shoulder problems. Rizzo, 22, joins 29-year-old Bryan LaHair as two first basemen whom general manager Jed Hoyer says were "the two best hitters in the minor leagues last season."

Epstein has said that LaHair will get a chance to be the regular first baseman in 2012, and the Rizzo trade on Jan. 6 won't change that. Hoyer says that Rizzo will open next season with Triple-A Iowa, even though he hit .331/.404/.652 with Triple-A Tucson last year.

"He's a player Jason, Theo and I know very well," Hoyer said. "We believe Anthony has the potential to hit in the middle of the order, with production, for the Cubs for a long time. He does have some development left—hopefully just a little adjustment—but he has a bright future."

Hoyer blames Rizzo's disappointing performance with San Diego—.141/.281/.242 in 49 games—on his own decision to push him to the big leagues too soon. Hoyer was the Padres' GM last year, and says it's "my fault" that Rizzo moved up before he was ready.

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod (the Cubs' new vice president of scouting) were with Boston when the lefthanded hitter was selected in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, and believe that he'll become a middle-of-the-order fixture in Cubs' lineups with only a little more work in the minor leagues.

Cubbyhole

• The Cubs added to their minor league inventory by signing two by signing two free agents from Cuba: 20-year-old righthander Carlos Martinez and 19-year-old outfielder Yasiel Balaguert. Both played with outfielder Jorge Soler, another Cuban expected to become a target for Epstein once he becomes a free agent.

• The Cubs got some pitching back in the Rizzo trade. They received 22-year-old righthander Zach Cates, who was the Padres' third-round pick in 2010. Cates is likely to start 2012 in the rotation with high Class A Daytona.