Why haven’t the Cubs called up Kris Bryant?
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter September 2, 2014 10:39PM
Updated: September 3, 2014 2:24PM
It’s been a foregone conclusion for weeks, if not a year or more, that the Cubs’ best prospect would not get called up this season, even in September.
But is it the right decision that Kris Bryant didn’t get a promotion when rosters expanded this week? Is it even the best decision for the Cubs?
It’s certainly not the fair and just baseball decision for Bryant, who leads professional baseball with 43 home runs, is expected to earn Minor League Player of the Year honors and who outperformed minor league teammates Javy Baez and Jorge Soler – both of whom were awarded big-league debuts by the club last month.
Even team president Theo Epstein said, “He did everything he can do. He lived up to his end of the bargain.”
Obviously, from a business standpoint, it seems to make little sense to start Bryant’s service-time clock in September with no playoff implications. And since he’s not on the 40-man roster, nor required to be in order to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter, that spot can be used to protect another minor-leaguer.
“But if this is a performance-driven industry as it should be, Bryant deserves the callup, based on performance,” said Scott Boras, Bryant’s agent. “What’s best for the player, what’s best for the team in 2015? The goal here is trying to make the team the best it can be in 2015. And what can you do to ready him for that?”
Boras’ argument that Bryant would benefit from the acclimation process of a big-league environment and competition level to better “hit the ground running” in 2015 is the same one the Cubs used when promoting Baez and Soler in August.
Certainly, it seems naïve to suggest the Cubs ignore the business-value ramifications of Bryant – a player many believe has the best chance among their prospects of becoming a perennial All-Star.
But one official from a team currently positioned in a playoff-qualifying spot said after seeing Bryant play this year the Cubs are making a mistake by not letting him make big-league adjustments this month.
Even if the fear is the Cubs will only get six years of club control before Bryant leaves as a free agent, “the month he gets now will make him a better player for those six years,” the team official said.
It’s the Mike Trout argument. Trout was called up by the Angels three years ago during a Minor League Player of the Year season and hit .220 in 40 games – then the next year, at 20, was an All-Star, rookie of the year and MVP runnerup.
“There’s something to that,” the official said.
Of course, the argument holds more weight if the Cubs plan to contend next season – even more if they were in contention now.
Epstein acknowledged Tuesday that the front office is looking at 2015 internally with a shifted big-league focus than the past few years – “a little bit more focused on finding the right complementary players and rounding out the big-league roster to maximize every possible win, every possible chance at contention, absolutely.”
That’s a long way from proclaiming the Cubs ready to contend. But what if they’re successful in landing an impact pitcher such as Jon Lester and get more growth from the young talent?
What if sweeping the Baltimore Orioles, splitting with the St. Louis Cardinals and clinching this week’s series against the Milwaukee Brewers with a 7-1 win Tuesday actually means something?
Boras refuted the perception he’s hell-bent on taking clients to free agency at the first chance. And general manager Jed Hoyer those kinds of concerns having nothing to do with their thinking on Bryant.
“The fact he’s not on the 40 is a consideration, but it’s not a determining factor,” Epstein said. “You just have to balance all the factors. It’s more art than science.”
“I do think the presumption for a player finishing his first full professional season is that he won’t be called up unless there’s a dire need in the big leagues, unless he can contribute to a team that’s in contention [which was the case with Trout],” Epstein said. “A first full professional season is a long grind, whether he realizes it or not. It’s appropriate to go home and rest and go get some active rest physically and let some things soak in mentally and come back ready to go for what we hope will be a seven-month season for him next year.
“I certainly think he’s close enough he can start setting his sights on the big leagues. Whenever that time comes, we don’t know, but he’s getting closer. There’s a good chance if he continues to develop he’ll spend the vast majority of 2015 in the big leagues. And we find a way to be a really competitive team, we’re looking to play seven months, not six.”