Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant should get a Mookie Betts deal
Now, wait, if you think the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant is overrated, then this is your article. If you think he’s the second coming, then this is also your article.
Let’s get right to the numbers. Offensively Mookie Betts is one of the best in the game, right? A six-year .301/.374/.519 slash, .892 OPS, and three Silver Sluggers seem to say so. But, take out his outrageously great 2018 season when he slashed .346/.438/.640 for a 1.078 OPS, and those overall numbers look like this: .292/.351/.488 with a .839 OPS.
The Cubs’ Kris Bryant has slashed .284/.385/.516 with a .901 OPS over his five-year career. That includes Bryant’s injury-marred 2018 season. KB gives up just eight points on batting average, bests Betts on OBP by 11 points, and is even on slugging. So, where are Bryant’s Silver Sluggers? Not even one? Really?
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Arguably Bryant Ks more. He also takes slightly fewer walks but gets hit by far more pitches than Betts, so it evens out a bit. (Note: on the Cubs, only Anthony Rizzo gets plunked more than Bryant).
The area that creates the most substantial separation is clutchness. Not that KB isn’t clutch, despite all the blather about how he’s not. He’s actually above league average and has been more clutch the past two seasons. Not Betts level of clutchness but a lot better than his first three seasons.
Betts is outrageously clutch. It’s not even close. He might be the best clutch hitter in baseball right now. But career clutchness aside, overall at the plate, there’s very little light between Betts and Bryant. On defense, it’s another matter.
Betts has won four consecutive Gold Gloves. While you could argue that it is more difficult to play third base than right field, Bryant’s five years at third don’t look anything close to Gold Glover-ish. In fact, Bryant is likely headed to left field as soon as the National League implements the DH, and the Cubs get serious about third base.
This brings us to the issue of a Bryant extension. Mookie Betts just signed a 12-year, $365 million extension with the Dodgers through the 2032 season and Betts’ age 39 season. That’s about $31 million AAV, but $65 million of that is a signing bonus, and $115 million, or roughly a third, is deferred, meaning it won’t be paid until after the contract runs out. Think Bobby Bonilla.
My Cubbies Crib colleague Jake Misener wrote about the overall team situation, but Bryant is the focus of the ongoing talk around extension/no extension. KB year older than Betts and hits free agency at age 30 after the 2021 season. Except for 2018, he’s been relatively injury-free and has averaged over 140 games per season, including the 102 game 2018 season. Durability doesn’t seem to be an issue.
The one issue is third base. Aside from Bryant, the Cubs have no one on the MLB team or down on the farm who can play it. They have a year to figure it out or leave Bryant there.
The saga of Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs, and Cubs fans is a complicated one. It involves sky-high fan expectations, a pariah agent, a sabermetric-oriented FO, and an owner who invests as much in the stuff around Wrigley for his benefit as he does on the Cubs team.
In the middle of it all is a quiet, soft-spoken player who remains as much of an enigma as fan favorite. But maybe he is just what he appears. A down-home kid who loves the game, Chicago, and the Cubs. That’s a hard sell though when your agent is Scott Boras.
So, should Bryant get a Mookie Betts deal? Maybe, maybe not, but these next two seasons will tell the tale on that.