Jim Bowden Claims Cubs ‘Did Not Make a Play on Bryce Harper at All’

I know many of you are suffering from Bryce Harper fatigue and have grown increasingly skeptical as each new bit of sourced information contradicts the last. But this latest report hit my windshield like a massive bird dropping and I just couldn’t wipe it off. That the Cubs may not have the available funds to sign Harper or other top free agents is far from novel, so The Athletic‘s Jim Bowden took things to a new level during a Wednesday appearance with David Kaplan and Jordan Cornette on ESPN 1000.

“Well, you got your world championship and then you got a lot of bad contracts,” Bowden said. “And that’s just business, that’s not just baseball. You had the money, you spent it, it didn’t work out — for injuries or for whatever reason — and now you gotta pay the price.

“They did not make a play on Bryce Harper at all. Zero, from I was told. They did not make a play on Michael Brantley. Zero. They did not make a play on A.J. Pollock. Zero. Despite knowing they need another professional hitter and another bullpen arm.”

He went on to report that the Drew Smyly trade was made in order to free up money to bring Cole Hamels back, which has been known since the time it went down. We’ll extend the benefit of the doubt on that one since not everyone follows the Cubs as obsessively as we do, even though Bowden’s colleague at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal, was responsible for the info

I’ve long been apprehensive of Bowden, and it’s got nothing to do with the former GM resigning his position with the Nationals during a federal investigation into his skimming of signing bonuses for Dominican prospects. Rather, it’s the general tendency toward bombast and frequent presentation of incomplete or incorrect information. Then again, I suppose someone could apply some of the latter to me.

This latest claim about the Cubs’ lack of contact with Harper runs completely counter to everything we’ve heard to this point. Cubs Insider had been told that they were indeed more “in” on the superstar than was being shared publicly. Gordon Wittenmyer reported for the Sun-Times in late December that the Cubs had actually met with Scott Boras for as long as three hours, at which point they asked Harper’s camp to wait for them before accepting another offer (all emphasis mine).

That explains the message the Cubs delivered during their lengthy meeting with Scott Boras, Harper’s agent — as long as three hours, by some accounts — as he and Harper made the rounds with interested teams.

Sources say Epstein urged them to wait before accepting an offer from another team until the Cubs had a chance to try to move some payroll off the books and check again with ownership.

Now, is it possible that Harper was not present at the meeting and that Bowden’s report is technically correct? Or that the semantics of “did not make a play” could be massaged to mean the Cubs were simply going through the motions? Sure, but that argument is intellectually dishonest at best, especially when he reinforced with “zero.”

As for the Cubs not pursuing those other moves, well, that’s hard to find much fault with that. CI learned back in December that Pollock was indeed seen as too rich a target. Subsequent reports have said the team is in such a bind that even signing Adam Warren would require them to free up salary. Woof.

At this point, the only good thing about all these conflicting reports is the fuel they provide for my burgeoning career as a professional summarizer.

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