Kris Bryant is not only the main focus at Cubs camp but he’s the talk of baseball. And when he will make his big league debut has become a heated debate throughout the game.
Kris Bryant has picked up this spring where he left off last season at the plate. In nine games Bryant is 10-for-23 with two doubles, six home runs, three walks, seven strikeouts and 30 total bases for a .435/.500/1.304 slash line and a 1.500 OPS.
With the assumption that Bryant will begin the season in the minors in order for the Cubs to gain an extra year of control, it was only a matter of time before his agent Scott Boras talked to the press about his client. And Boras did not mix words Tuesday when he spoke to Ken Rosenthal and Bob Nightengale about Kris Bryant.
Theo Epstein did not back down from Boras and told Ken Rosenthal, “As with all our baseball decisions, I will determine where Kris begins the 2015 season after consulting with members of our baseball operations staff. Comments from agents, media members and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”
Scott Boras’ Comments
• “Cubs’ ownership has a choice. Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning. When someone says it’s the system, no, it’s a choice – the choice of winning.”
• “This is no different than [Jason] Heyward, Elvis Andrus, [Troy] Tulowitzki, Austin Jackson, [Jose] Fernandez with the Marlins. Their owners had the same choice Ricketts has. They were about winning and they went for it. And those clubs got the result and effect of players performing and winning, in some cases going to the World Series.”
• “I believe the issue with Kris Bryant is not whether he should be on the 2015 teams. The issue it, why wasn’t he called up in September or last year when he could have prepared for the 2015 season? He was the Minor League Player of the Year. Others who did not perform as well were called up. And that issue is even more relevant today.”
• “You are damaging the ethics and brand of Major League Baseball. Kris Bryant has extraordinary skills. Kris Bryant is a superstar. He has distinguished himself from all players at every level he’s played. Everybody in baseball is saying he’s a Major League player ready for the big leagues. I have players call me. Executives call me. The Cubs’ people want him here. Everyone says, ‘They cannot send this guy down.’ It’s too obvious. This isn’t a system choice. This isn’t a mandate. This is a flat ownership decision. Do you really want to win here?”
• “The fact that this player is so talented that you’re worried about what you’re going to do with him seven years from now gives you an idea about this value to the team. So stop saying this is the system. If this was a losing team, OK, it’s not prudent to bring him up. But Tom [Ricketts] talks about this team being ready to win now. And if you’re ready to win, you’ve got to give them every resource to do it. The Cubs haven’t had a pennant since 1945, so why worry about something six years from now. Other owners, when given the chance, have done this. Why not give yourself a chance to win, too?”
• “He [Kris Bryant] believes he should have been in the big leagues last September and he certainly believes that if his spring performance is among the best 25 players, he should be in the big league now. What this spring has illustrated is that he should have been in the big leagues last September. He could have gotten his seasoning then. Major League Baseball fans missed something. They missed the opportunity to see this man perform, and the Cubs missed the opportunity to get him acclimated and established for 2015.”
Theo Epstein’s Comments
• “Kris Bryant’s development path has absolutely nothing to do with ownership, period. As with all our baseball decisions, I will determine where Kris begins the 2015 season after consulting with members of our baseball operations staff. Comments from agents, media members and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”
• “Ownership doesn’t have anything to do with it. We’re making an organizational decision. And I’ll be the one, as president of baseball operations, making the decision. You never have a second chance to promote somebody the first time. You want to make sure they’re in the right place. In Kris’ case, we know he’s ready offensively, we just want to get him in a good rhythm defensively. We do a better job at player development than we do at strategizing on how to save a few dollars here and there. That’s what we want to be all about. We don’t think we screwed him up, and we don’t think we’re going to.”
• “As I told Kris in September and again at the start of Spring Training, we view him as nearly big league ready. The remaining area for improvement is his defense – something Kris agrees with. Kris is 6-foot-5½ and therefore faces obstacles other third basemen don’t face. This Spring Training we wanted him to work on his footwork, his first step, his throwing and other fundamentals with as many game repetitions as possible. More than anything, we want him to get in a good rhythm defensively before he makes his Major League debut. That has not happened yet, in part due to some shoulder fatigue that is not a concern but has limited the amount of game action he’s been able to have at third base.”
• “If enough time remains to get Kris into a good rhythm defensively at, we may consider putting him on the club. If not, we see nothing wrong with using the early part of the season at Iowa to get him in that rhythm. We believe he’s going to be an outstanding defender in time; we want him comfortable when he makes the leap to the highest level.”
• “In my experience, even the best prospects are well served with significant time at the Triple-A level. Dustin Pedroia had 162 games and 733 plate appearances at Triple-A before making his Major League debut. Anthony Rizzo had 163 games and 697 plate appearances at Triple-A before we called him up for good with the Cubs. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but some of the players we have moved more quickly have struggled without the extensive Triple-A experience. We have one chance to get this right with Kris, and we will make the best baseball decision we can.”
• “When we talked after the season he was really happy how he held up physically, but he’s an honest kid, and said that he was little mentally drained from the grind of the long season. I think it was the right thing, let him go through his first full season, and feel good about the numbers he put up. Now, with a full year under his belt, we think he’s really close to the big leagues. We think it will happen this year. We just don’t know when.”
Theo Epstein on MLB Network Radio
Theo Epstein joined Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette during the baseball channel’s stop at Cubs camp on its Spring Training Tour. Mike Ferrin asked Epstein the Kris Bryant question and if there was a chance he would begin the season with the Cubs.
“Yeah, there’s always a chance. We haven’t made any decisions yet. We’re going to make baseball decisions. When we sat down with Kris at the beginning of Spring Training and even at the end of last year, the conversation I had with him, we didn’t talk much about his offense. What are you going to say to a guy who hit .320, hit 43 bombs, done things that, you know, very few and far between have ever accomplished? And he’s so scientific, so self-aware offensively, he’s knows himself so well I’m not going to spend a lot of time asking him to change offensively. But we talked a lot about his defense and he acknowledges this. He’s a great baseball guy. He understands what he needs to work on. He’s 6-foot-5½ and trying to play third base and that’s hard to do otherwise there would be more 6-5, 6-6 third basemen. He’s got some things to work on with his throwing mechanics, his first step quickness, bending all the way down even on routine groundballs so those grass-huggers don’t get between your legs. There is some room for improvement defensively as every player has room for improvement defensively. We identified that as a priority at the beginning of camp. We want to see a lot of game reps and more than anything we want to get him in a good rhythm defensively before he makes his Major League debut. We can get him into that good rhythm defensively and there is some improvement in Spring Training, great, then maybe we put him on the team and go from there. Maybe we need the beginning of the season at Triple-A in order to establish that good rhythm defensively then he’ll come up a little bit later.”
“In the big picture, we’re talking about his career here, it doesn’t necessarily matter exactly what day it starts. The shoulder fatigue has meant that he hasn’t been able – he made a couple of throwing errors early in camp and then he had the sore shoulder so he hasn’t been able to get the game reps that we would hope and he’s not yet in that good rhythm defensively. We’ll see what happens the rest of the way. But that’s what we’re talking about. We’re not sitting there in the office talking about service time and service days, future payroll and parsing it like that. We’re talking about Kris Bryant, physically, fundamentally and mentally, his strengths, his weakness, his development path, what he needs to work on, how we get him just right and in a good rhythm especially defensively so when he comes up he hopefully never goes back.”
Kris Bryant’s Comments
Kris Bryant’s comments on the situation from USA Today:
“I tune it out. It’s kind of getting old for me now. I’m just trying to go out there and play baseball. If they see me as one of the top 25 guys at the end of spring, I’ll be out there. That’s all I can do really. I understand there are certain rules you abide by, and this isn’t any different. I’m just trying to make it hard on them. Have fun. Do it with a smile on my face. And really remember why I’m playing this game.”
If Kris Bryant begins the season with Triple-A Iowa and does not make his big league debut until 12 days, not games, but days in the season the Cubs receive a seventh year of control, during his prime years, before Bryant becomes a free agent. A full Major League seasons consists for 183 calendar days. Under the current CBA, one year of service time is defined as 172 days.