For someone who speaks clearly and honestly, Kris Bryant sure has to repeat himself a lot. Part of that is the rebooted season, which necessitates a whole new catch-up period for the media and fans alike. In addition to the COVID pandemic and messy negotiations surrounding baseball’s return, Bryant became a father and gave way to Ian Happ as the team’s union rep.
He’s also been the subject of a great deal of conversation regarding the organization’s future, specifically whether or not he’ll be a part of it. A maddeningly protracted grievance over the manipulation of his service time came to a head this winter, predictably ending in the Cubs’ favor and ensuring Bryant would be under club control for two more years. That gave way to trade rumors galore as many believed the Cubs would find more value in moving him than paying him.
Driving those rumors was the erroneous notion that Bryant was upset with the Cubs and wanted out of Chicago, which had started even before a national writer irresponsibly reported as much. Following previous reports that Bryant had turned down an extension for “well north of $200 million,” it’s understandable that people were being led to draw incorrect conclusions.
Though only a select few people know exactly how any contract discussions have progressed, Bryant didn’t spurn an offer with the kind of guaranteed money that was initially rumored. And even if the Cubs had indeed proposed something with total incentives stretching beyond $200 million, Scott Boras, Bryan’s agent, wouldn’t have even bothered bringing it to his client in the first place.
Watch: David Kaplan joins The Rant to discuss report that Kris Bryant turned down extension offer.
All the while, Bryant has maintained publicly that he’s very happy with the organization and is open to discussing a long-term deal that would keep him there. Even Boras, who has a reputation as being hell-bent on getting players to free agency, has stated on at least two occasions that Bryant is “more than willing” to talk about an extension.
Recent events and their long-tail ramifications may have increased that willingness. Though Bryant remained reluctant to discuss any contract specifics during Monday’s media availability, he did admit that becoming a father and experiencing the pandemic has made him even more open to an extension.
Listened back to it a few times to be sure…Bryant was asked, considering what's gone on — including having a baby — if he'd be 'more open to an extension than he may have been before':
“I would say ‘yeah.’
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) July 6, 2020
“I would like to think that I wouldn’t be shipped out in the middle of a pandemic,” Bryant said. “But I’m trying to make it clear that I really love it here. I love playing here, and I love everything about the city and the people.
“You want to be around people that want you and care for you and I’ve certainly felt that being a Chicago Cub.”
Emotion is one thing, but some more practical factors have arisen that could make an extension more viable for both Bryant and the Cubs. The first of those is that the shortened season makes it that much more difficult to swing a big trade. The prevailing opinion around the game is that there will be fewer transactions between teams, and it’s hard to imagine the Cubs could get nearly the return now that they hypothetically could have under normal conditions.
Driving all of this, both immediately and over the next two seasons or more, is money. Bryant was set to earn $18.6 million salary this season and will almost certainly get a raise to north of $20 million in his final year of arbitration, not exactly a pittance for a league that has complained loudly about how much money it’s losing due to the shutdown. Owners who are crying poor across the board won’t be as willing to take on big deals just to bolster their teams for what promises to be a chaotic season.
Beyond that, it’s quite clear that financial concerns are going to suppress free agency this winter and beyond, especially with the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement coming after the 2021 season. While players entering free agency after whatever we get of the 2020 season are really going to be hurt, Bryant can’t confidently expect his potential free agency to play out as well as it would have sans shutdown.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean he’s had to recalibrate expectations of signing a record-setting deal, since that was never his goal in the first place. As you’ve been reading at CI and hearing from Bryant himself, he simply wants to get a deal that makes sense. Given all that’s happened, particularly having his own priorities galvanized by fatherhood and seeing the writing on the wall with MLB’s financial future, it’s reasonable to believe that security and continuity have become more important than ever.
Only time will tell whether the Cubs feel the same way, though it’s equally reasonable to believe they could be more motivated than before to retain Bryant as a foundational piece of the next generation of the team. The price may have come down from where it once was, and a little good PR — not to mention a telegenic face for Marquee Sports Network — would go a long way as baseball tries to rebuild its image. That just makes too much sense.
Of course, the last several weeks have taught us that nothing really makes sense.