Agent Scott Boras will not blame baseball’s collective-bargaining agreement if the Chicago Cubs decline to include third baseman Kris Bryant on their Opening Day roster.
Boras, who represents Bryant, will blame Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.
“Cubs ownership has a choice,” Boras told FOX Sports on Tuesday. “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.
“When someone says it’s the system, no, it’s a choice — the choice of winning.”
Cubs president Theo Epstein countered, “Kris Bryant’s development path has absolutely nothing to do with ownership, period. As with all our baseball decisions, I will determine where Kris begins the 2015 season after consulting with members of our baseball operations staff. Comments from agents, media members and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”
The Cubs, however, could decide to start Bryant, 23, at Triple-A Iowa — and if they postpone his major-league arrival for at least 12 days, it will enable them to gain an additional year of control over Bryant before he becomes a free agent, according to baseball’s collective-bargaining agreement.
The difference will determine whether Bryant is eligible for free agency entering his age 29 or age 30 season. Boras’ preference for his clients to determine their values on the open market, however, could work against Bryant. The Cubs, knowing that Bryant is unlikely to accept a long-term extension before reaching free agency, surely covet the extra year of control.
There is a bigger picture as well.
The Cubs, after hiring manager Joe Maddon and signing free-agent left-hander Jon Lester to a $155 million contract this winter, are embarking upon a renewed push to win their first World Series since 1908.
“Obviously, we all believe this year’s team has what it takes to win the division and go to the playoffs,” Ricketts told reporters at the start of spring training. “… We’re looking forward to winning. We feel this is the year we start to show results.”
Boras said that Bryant should be part of the Cubs’ immediate plan, pointing to the successes of several rookies who made Opening Day rosters in recent years and in turn helped their clubs.
“This is no different than [Jason] Heyward, Elvis Andrus, [Troy] Tulowitzki, Austin Jackson, [Jose] Fernandez with the Marlins,” Boras said. “Their owners had the same choice [Ricketts] has. They were about winning and they went for it. And those clubs got the result and effect of players performing and winning, in some cases going to the World Series.”
Three of those players — Andrus, Jackson and Fernandez — are Boras clients. Heyward helped the Braves win a wild card in 2010. Tulowitzki, after making his major-league debut the previous September, helped the Rockies reach the World Series in 2007.
Albert Pujols, who joined the Cardinals in 2001, is another example of a rookie who helped his team to the playoffs after making the Opening Day roster.
Epstein, however, said that Bryant is not a finished product.
“As I told Kris last September and again at the start of spring training, we view him as nearly big league ready,” Epstein said. “The remaining area for improvement is his defense — something Kris agrees with.
“Kris is 6-foot-5½ and therefore faces obstacles other third basemen don’t face. This spring training we wanted him to work on his footwork, his first step, his throwing and other fundamentals with as many game repetitions as possible. More than anything, we want him to get in a good rhythm defensively before he makes his major-league debut.
“That has not happened yet, in part due to some shoulder fatigue that is not a concern but has limited the amount of game action he’s been able to have at third base.”
Bryant has not played the field since last Thursday because of his shoulder issue. He has handled only eight chances all spring in Cactus League games, and committed two throwing errors.
“If enough time remains to get Kris into a good rhythm defensively at, we may consider putting him on the club. If not, we see nothing wrong with using the early part of the season at Iowa to get him in that rhythm,” Epstein said. “We believe he’s going to be an outstanding defender in time; we want him comfortable when he makes the leap to the highest level.”
The Cubs last season had mixed results with two highly regarded youngsters whom they promoted to the majors — right fielder Jorge Soler enjoyed success, while second baseman Javier Baez struggled.
Bryant, completing his first full professional season, did not receive a September call-up. The Cubs said they wanted him to relax, get away from the game and reflect upon his performance. They did not ask him to play winter ball.
Boras said that Bryant warranted a call-up.
“I believe the issue with Kris Bryant is not whether he should be on the 2015 team. The issue is, why wasn’t he called up in September of last year when he could have prepared for the 2015 season?” Boras said.
“He was the [MLB] Minor League Player of the Year. Others who did not perform as well were called up. And that issue is even more relevant today.”
Epstein, though, said that Bryant could benefit from additional time at Triple- A, where he has appeared in only 70 games and made only 297 plate appearances.
“In my experience, even the best prospects are well served with significant time at the Triple-A level,” said Epstein, who previously was the Red Sox’s general manager.
“[Boston’s] Dustin Pedroia had 162 games and 733 plate appearances at Triple-A before making his major-league debut. Anthony Rizzo had 163 games and 697 plate appearances at Triple-A before we called him up for good with the Cubs.
“There is no hard-and-fast rule, but some of the players we have moved more quickly have struggled without the extensive Triple-A experience. We have one chance to get this right with Kris, and we will make the best baseball decision we can.”