GLENDALE, Ariz. — Caught in the crossfire between his agent and team, Kris Bryant defended both Wednesday, but was clear that his spring training performance didn’t jibe with his likely Opening Day destination: the minor leagues.
The Cubs’ star prospect said he loved the Cubs’ ownership and front office, which could stand to gain an extra year of contract control simply by allowing him to spend the first two weeks or so in Class AAA.
“But at the same time,” he said, “I’m hearing from my teammates that they want me up and I’m doing well and everybody’s telling me I’m progressing well.
“That’s kinda sending mixed messages to me.”
Coaches from around the Cactus League have told him how well he’s doing, he said. Bryant leads all of baseball with six spring training home runs.
“It’s an honor to wear this uniform every day,” he said. “I can’t help but smile every time I put it on. But I’m not a child out there. I realize there’s a business side of this thing.”
That was clear Tuesday, when his agent, Scott Boras, said the Cubs were “damaging the ethics and brand of Major League Baseball” and wondered if the Cubs were even trying to win.
Cubs president Theo Epstein has said he’ll make the decision for purely baseball reasons.. The club has stressed that Bryant smooth out his defense, from his throwing to footwork. He’s spent the last six days bothered by a tired throwing shoulder.
Bryant said Wednesday, though, that he’s been “coming along really nice” on defense.
“I feel really good out there,” he said. “I think I’ve been doing everything they asked me to, getting better every day. I have nothing but positive feedback.”
Bryant called his agent — who he met after his freshman year of college — the best of all time.
“It’s nice to have a bulldog working for you,” he said, “rather than a poodle.”
Manager Joe Maddon, who met with Bryant on Wednesday and preached patience, said the comments made by Boras — with whom he’s been friendly for years —were keeping in line with an agent’s job. Of course he’d want what was financially better for his client.
“That is what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “Scorpions bite.”
Bryant said Boras’ comments wouldn’t affect his relationship with his team.
Wednesday, though, might have been a bit awkward.
“Put yourself in his position,” Maddon said. “He’s hearing all this stuff, he’s trying to make the Major League team and he gets caught up in this political crap that he wants no part of.
“And I don’t blame him. So when you put a young player in that position, to answer those kind of (media) questions, it’s not going to be easy for him.
“He’s trying to protect his agent, he’s trying to protect the organization. He’s trying to tell you what he thinks. It’s very confusing.”
Maddon said that arguments about rookies whose service time has been delayed — be it the Angels’ Mike Trout or Evan Longoria when he managed the Rays — are skewed by outcome bias. It’s impossible to assume how the teams would have fared with the players up earlier, he said.
Bryant understated that his spring training performance has put him in a pretty good position.”
“We’re told we can go out there and win a spot,” he said. “I really took that to heart at the beginning of the spring. I really came out here with a chip on my shoulder and really wanted to play as hard as I can. I’ll continue to do that until the end.”
Maddon, too, seemed more concerned about where Bryant finishes the season.
“He’s fine,” Maddon said. “He’s going to be a Cub for many years. He’s going to impact our season.
“And I hope to be shaking hands with him post-World Series this year.”