CHICAGO – Naturally, his cheers from the crowd were among the loudest on Friday night. Since 2015, that’s mostly been the case.
Kris Bryant is one of the faces of the most successful run in the modern era of the Cubs franchise. He’s won a Rookie of the Year award, the National League MVP, been named to the All-Star Game three times, and most memorably, had the final put out of the team’s Game 7 win that clinched their first World Series title in 108 years.
There’s no denying Bryant’s impact on the franchise, hence the reason many don’t want to see it end. The idea that it will have been floated constantly this offseason, with the Cubs facing the reality that it will be difficult financially to keep all the stars of their 2016 title team together.
“I think he’s in a good place and he knows too. It’s a rumor until it happens,” said teammate Anthony Rizzo of Bryant. “He’s the MVP of the league a couple of years ago and a guy who puts up consistent numbers, so we hope he’s on our side, that’s for sure.”
Rizzo’s comments represented the general tenor of the team at this weekend’s Cubs Convention, where Bryant’s future of a major talking point for the activities at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. The third baseman figures to get a hefty payday when his contract comes up based on the history of deals negotiated by his agent Scott Boras.
There is still a question as to when Bryant will hit the free agent market thanks to a grievance filed on his behalf for his late call-up to the majors back in 2015. If it’s ruled in the third baseman’s favor, then Bryant will become a free agent after this season, which could speed up the Cubs’ efforts to trade him should they feel they can’t sign him in the future.
If not, 2021 would be the last for Bryant under contract with the Cubs, yet the deal could be better now for the Cubs if a club can have control of the former MVP for two seasons. All of these scenarios are going through team president Theo Epstein’s mind right now as he figures out what to do with one of the best players in the MLB.
“It’s part of the game. There are times where the players or clubs have to assert their rights and have to represent themselves and put their own interests forward, and you come together. Anthony (Rizzo) said it well the other day; I agree with everything he said. The business is as cutthroat as it’s ever been – and he’s right,” said Epstein. “Teams are trying to squeeze as much value as they can onto their roster, and unfortunately, dollars are an important part of the currency of the game. You use those dollars to try to create wins. From the player’s side, there is a lot of money on the line too, and they can set their families up forever, and they should be looking out for their own rights. If they think they can get more in free agency then an extension might provide them, by all means, go get it. But that comes with some uncertainty as well, turning down contracts.
“It’s doesn’t mean you don’t like each other, it doesn’t mean you don’t respect each other; I have all the respect in the world for Kris Bryant. I appreciate everything that he’s done as a Cub, I’m very proud of what he’s done as a Cub, proud that we drafted him and we developed him, though he didn’t need much development at all, and proud to have been alongside of him for all these times, and I hope that it continues.”
Epstein said he believes it will, yet the options remain open to the club when it comes to Bryant with the idea that the future will be valued as much as the present.
“I think with any individual player who is important to us, it’s always more likely that they will be here than not. A lot goes into having to make any kind of significant transaction. Kris is an important guy here and we expect that he’ll be our third baseman,” said Epstein. “But we’ve been open and transparent about the fact that we’ll talk about all our players this year, and we have to, we have to be more mindful of building a successful future post-2021 for this group. We’re running close to that point where a lot of our best players are going to be able to leave and we’d get nothing in return.
“Because of that, we’re in a position where we’re going to listen on everybody and so a lot of the reports of possible trades have sprung out of that. But it doesn’t ever make anything likely when it comes to accessing the chances of a trade with any one specific player. We value Kris, we respect everything that he’s done, we appreciate everything he’s done. We look forward to many great days ahead and we hope he’s part of it.”
Theo’s not alone.
“Like Rizz says, he’s one of the best players out there,” said shortstop Javier Baez of Bryant. “He was the MVP a few years ago. It’s gonna be a whole different team without him. We’ll see what happens, we’ll see if that happens, who’s coming, who’s not. Hopefully we keep Kris here his entire career.”
Those who got the chance to see him this weekend in downtown Chicago and cheered for him as loud as ever feel the same.