Cubs president Theo Epstein: no “ulterior motives” in Kris Bryant decision process

SHARE Cubs president Theo Epstein: no “ulterior motives” in Kris Bryant decision process
SHARE Cubs president Theo Epstein: no “ulterior motives” in Kris Bryant decision process

MESA, Ariz. – Third baseman? Left fielder? Kris Bryant might as well be an astronaut this spring since he has about as much chance of landing on the moon as he does the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.

But that doesn’t mean the top prospect in baseball believes he can’t do it. Or that he won’t push as hard on the field as his agent has pushed off of it to break team president Theo Epstein’s 12-year streak of never allowing a non-Rule-5 prospect to make his major league debut on Opening Day.

“I look at it as, `Why not me?’ “ said Bryant, who didn’t know until this week of Epstein’s perfect (imperfect?) record as an executive. “I think I’m the type of guy that can go out there and do it, and I’ve made it a point of mine to come out here and show them that I can.”

It’s going to take more than a spring training record number of home runs (he already leads the majors this spring with nine) or a spectacular kick defensively – at any position — the final week of the spring.

Keeping him off the roster for at least 12 days this season pushes back Bryant’s earliest free agency eligibility a year (until after the 2021 season).

“But it’s not about business. People are trying to make this about business. There are valid baseball reasons,” Epstein said Friday. “The process of developing a player, taking him from amateur to major league player and every step along the way, that’s a baseball process. Those are baseball decisions. And that’s what we’re doing here.”

Epstein, who was emphatic that no decision has been made on Bryant, talked a few days after Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, made media rounds blasting the Cubs and the service-time rule in anticipation of Bryant’s likely assignment to AAA Iowa.

“We’re going to make a good baseball decision based on what we think is best for his development, what’s best for the team, the organization, other players affected,” Epstein said. “We haven’t made the decision yet, but I do look to things that have worked in the past for me as the presumptive guideline for what to do in the future.

“And I’m not saying it’s perfect. But I do think if you stack it up and look at some of the young players, it’s a pretty good track record.

“Whatever we decide on this one might be wrong. I’m not saying I’m right all the time. But it’s my professional judgment.”

Epstein said Bryant hasn’t been singled out when it comes to how his front office evaluates players – even if at times it looks like within his own camp Bryant is being held to a different standard than, say, Javy Baez, who is in position to make the club on far less performance merit.

“Every player’s different; every circumstance is different,” Epstein said.

The obvious big difference here is that Baez has two months big-league experience. Bryant might have a few kinks to work out defensively, and Epstein pointed to a number of other factors that could lead to a AAA decision, such as circus-like atmosphere of Opening Day, early cold weather, the ability to preserve depth by keeping an additional player with that 40-man roster spot, and the desire to have a young player settle into a successful everyday “flow” and “rhythm” in the minors before his debut.

Those are the factors Epstein said get weighed individually and that have ultimately led to 12 years of spring decisions that have taken Epstein to this point in his career without non-Japanese veteran, non-Rule 5 player making a big-league debut on Opening Day under him.

“It’s the same process we’re undergoing here,” he said. “People can talk all they want about ulterior motives, but we’re making a professional baseball/player development judgment, something that we’ve done a lot over the years.”

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