Chicago Cubs: Why holding back Bryant was more Epstein brilliance


We all know the narrative. The Chicago Cubs held back Kris Bryant to start last season because he needed “defensive work”. While frowned upon, the practice wasn’t entirely against the rules to protect contract status. Now it ranks with other brilliant moves the Cubs brass has made.

Admit it, you were angry. The Chicago Cubs‘ Kris Bryant made a mockery of opposing pitchers in Spring Training last year. He hit nine home runs in 40 plate appearances but didn’t break camp with the Cubs. His defense was the reasoning, and that upset the MLB Players Association. While threats by the MLBPA were tossed around, no legal action was taken. This was what was agreed upon at the bargaining table. It’s almost assured of change now, but while not liked, it wasn’t illegal.

Bryant played his short stint in Iowa, and after Mike Olt was placed on the DL the Bryant era was to begin. Convenient timing. An injury to the third baseman opened the door for the Cubs phenom. That two weeks assured that Bryant would remain a Cub until 2021 and not 2020. An NL Rookie of the Year and potential MVP season later? It looks like another splendid decision by Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

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There were so many things that went into making this such a viral story. The first was Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras. If you’re a baseball fan, you should know who he is. Here’s my thought on him from a

couple of years ago

. They haven’t changed by the way. Then there was the redonk spring numbers he posted. A homer every 10 at-bats? Then he was sent down because he needed work defensively. We all knew better. But now? I’m so glad that was the decision they made.

Taking it in stride

Bryant was disappointed but never made a big deal about it. To be honest, he didn’t really have any time to. He was back up before he could stew about it too long. And trading two weeks of Bryant for a year of control? Looking back, it’s easy to see why people were upset. The Cubs hadn’t been very good. We finally had a player that looked like he could meet the aspirations of the fans and his potential. We were ready to see him on the field.

Bryant’s call-up helped start the turnaround of the Cubs. Technically it was already underway under the surface. But it was the beginning of what we see today. At some point, the Cubs needed to decide their direction. If Bryant had struggled, or the Cubs weren’t contending for a playoff spot, would Kyle Schwarber had stayed? I think it would have been a “cup of coffee” and that would have been it. But the success of these young players created something greater.

While Epstein and Hoyer pulled all the right string from the top, Joe Maddon has done the same on the field. And that has lead to more strings from the top. His decision to move Starlin Castro likely helped perpetuate the call-up of Addison Russell. And Maddon’s love for versatility paved the way for Javier Baez to claim his spot.

The payday will come

And understand this, Bryant will get paid. While he won’t hit free agency till 2021, he’s arbitration eligible in 2018. If the Cubs don’t give it to him, the arbitrator is going to. And the Cubs and Epstein have made every effort to not let it come to that.

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The Cubs last two seasons have played out like the movie Oceans Eleven. It seems that everything they’ve done has worked. Even when things go wrong it’s panned out in the long run. Epstein has become the Danny Ocean of the Cubs. Now we’re all just waiting to see if we get that Hollywood ending.