My Worries About Kris Bryant Go Beyond Whether or not He Lives up to the Hype

I am a worrier by nature. I have an award from eighth grade to prove it. A colleague refers to me as Eeyore. This mindset might not be surprising given that I wrote about pieces the Cubs could sell if the season falls apart last week. It should not be surprising then that I am worried about the man who could be one of the most important Cubs for the next seven years.

My worries in this case go beyond Kris Bryant’s performance at the major league level because, despite his status as a can’t-miss prospect, there are some red flags. His contact rate was among the lowest of professional hitters last season, which is one trait that he shares with Javier Baez beyond prodigious power. Some fans are likely to be disappointed when that prevents Bryant from becoming a .300 hitter.

Now, Bryant does enough other things to make up for that problem and still be an extremely productive player. However, it would be wise to have some reservations about his potential production this season despite the spring training performance.

My real worries may or may not be irrational, but they are two-fold related to the same issue, which is Kris Bryant being demoted for obvious service time manipulation. One is the threat of a grievance and the second is how Bryant has taken the demotion. These could be serious issues that affect the Cubs long term; then again, they could amount to nothing. But I can’t shake these worries so here I am writing.

First, the threat of grievance is very real. If you haven’t read Jason Wojciechowski writing about Kris Bryant (here, here, and here), please do because he is an expert on the subject and I am not. I am not going to argue the merits of a grievance or litigation because I do not have the background to do so.

My fear is that this will effect the way the Cubs handle Kris Bryant specifically. Again this may be irrational, but MLB has as much to fear about precedent being set in a grievance scenario as the MLBPA has. The Cubs will have a much harder time to proving that it was solely for baseball reasons and that they were acting in good faith if Bryant is magically ready just a day or two after he passed the threshold for missing a full year of service time.

The commissioner’s office would never directly tell the Cubs what to do, but I think it would be naive to assume that there wouldn’t be some pressure to make this look good for the other teams. So my fear is that the Cubs will have to wait a little bit longer to call Bryant up in order to make what they are doing a bit less transparent.

My other concern with masking the true nature of the situation is how it will affect Kris Bryant. We can say it is just business and that he will be a professional. However, he is a human being who takes a tremendous amount of pride in what he does. He has worked his entire life to get to this point, and the Cubs have, in his mind, unfairly delayed that dream. You may think I am being overly dramatic, and perhaps I am since I don’t know what goes on Kris Bryant’s mind.

That worried me at the time. Bryant had been so polished and smooth in communication with the media. It might have been an overreaction on my part, but then Bryant spoke to the media after being sent down.

“I wanted my performance to matter, and to me it felt like it didn’t matter as much as I thought it would. “I’m definitely learning it’s a business,” Bryant said. “I just go out there and put my head down and play as hard as I can. Baseball is such a performance-driven industry. I’m a big believer if you go out there and perform and work hard and you earn it then I believe you should get that chance to play up there. I guess it was viewed differently than I thought.”

There was also this exchange on twitter about one part of his comments as well.

I am sure there are a lot of ways to read these quotes, but the front office has taught Bryant that this is a business first and foremost. Bryant has positioned himself perfectly to be able to make to free agency. My personal hopes for an extension prior to Bryant testing free agency were always low, but now they’ve sunken even further. Seven years is a long time to hold a grudge, and the fear isn’t that Bryant will let this affect his performance on the field or his actions as a teammate. The fear is the Cubs’ ability to hold onto a potentially special player for more than 7 years.

Since this is all speculation, I thought it would be nice to add some positivity. The theory isn’t as crazy as it sounds on face value. As part of his reasoning for leaving Boston and coming to Chicago, Theo Epstein stated a belief that 10 years was the maximum time one person should be in charge of an organization.

Those ten years would time up with exactly when Kris Bryant heads into free agency. McLeod also turned down interviewing for San Diego this offseason, but that might say more about the state of the San Diego organization prior to AJ Preller taking over than it does Chicago. Still, the Boston model of Theo Epstein leaving and a top lieutenant taking over running the organization is there.

Kris Bryant will be a Chicago Cub for seven years, presuming both production and health remain good. But the thought that any acrimony will all disappear when he is called up is foolish, given the rancor that is developing between MLBPA and MLB. It sucks that the Cubs are caught in the middle of this situation, but, to be fair, they are not blameless in this scenario either, having exploited loophole in the CBA.

Just understand that this decision the Cubs made was always more complicated than just understanding that 7 is greater than 6.


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