Anthony Rizzo Yankees
Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows Anthony Rizzo was born to be a Yankee.

He’s been a great fit for the team ever since being acquired from the Cubs last summer. Even better, Rizzo re-signed with the team he rooted for as a child, inking a two-year, $32 million deal in free agency.

It’s proven a great signing for the Yankees. In Tuesday’s 12-8 win over the Orioles, Rizzo slugged three home runs and had six RBI. He is now batting .283 on the year with an MLB-best eight home runs and 18 RBI. The Yankees are keeping up in the American League East, the team already looks better than last year’s squad, everyone’s happy. Right?

Well, maybe. Rizzo has certainly performed as expected for the Yankees in 2022, maybe a little bit better. It’s still only April, but it’s clear he’s already playing for his next contract. And the Yankees need to take notice fast.

Contract countdown

Rizzo’s current deal allows him to opt out after this season and hit the market again. ESPN currently projects him to finish with 72 home runs and 162 RBI, numbers so big that we can practically see Yankee Stadium’s short porch past them. For context, Rizzo’s career highs are 32 (accomplished three times) and 109 (accomplished twice).

He won’t hit either total in either category, but look at it this way instead: At 32, Rizzo still plays at a high level. Even hitting a modest .248 last year, the four-time Gold Glove-winner still had 22 home runs with 61 RBI. Rizzo also spent 2021 playing for the rebuilding Cubs and grossly underachieving Yankees, and still managed a wRC+ of 112. He wasn’t great, but he was above average.

Barring a major regression to the mean, Rizzo seems likely to opt out and pursue a better deal.

Should the Yankees pay?

That’s a tough question. The Yankees have no surefire first base prospects coming up through the minor league system. If anything, maybe DJ LeMahieu will move to first base in the next year or so if Rizzo decides to walk.

Except, the Yankees would be foolish to let Rizzo go. He’s a reliable fielder. His lefty swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. Not only that, but he turns 33 this summer. Even he has to know that opting out might just mean re-upping with the Yankees for more years and a slight raise.

What would be so wrong with that? Rizzo loves being a Yankee and all but admitted during the offseason that he wanted to stay in New York. This is where he belongs. If it means general manager Brian Cashman spending a little more money to keep him around, so be it.

Final thoughts

All this to say that although the season is young, the Yankees front office really needs to pay close attention to Anthony Rizzo. Eight home runs before May 1 is an accomplishment for any player. Rizzo has done it in a season still just 17 games old. It’s not a matter of if he opts out, but when.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.