Slow market won’t scare arb-record winner Kris Bryant away from free agency

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Kris Bryant greets fans during opening ceremonies for Cubs Convention Friday.

Maybe the slow-moving free-agent market this winter will make some players start to rethink their dreams of the open market?

Maybe those long-shot odds of the Cubs eventually signing homegrown star Kris Bryant to a long-term extension just got a lot better?

Maybe. Not.


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“No, not at all,” Bryant said Friday of this market’s influence on his thinking — on the day he agreed to a record $10.85 million salary as a first-year arbitration-eligible player.

It’s an open secret the Cubs would love to work out a multiyear deal with the 2016 National League MVP, preferably one that extends beyond the club control that runs through 2021.

They signed his cornerstone Bryzzo counterpart, Anthony Rizzo, to a seven-year, $41 million deal before Rizzo had a full season in the majors. Rizzo has since become a three-time All-Star, making $7 million this year on a contract that includes a pair of option years that could extend him through 2021.

But Bryant, whose deal to avoid arbitration broke Ryan Howard’s decade-old record with the Phillies by $850,000, always has said he is comfortable going year-to-year through arbitration.

“I guess for some players it might be stressful, but I really enjoyed the whole process of it,” Bryant said.

Why wouldn’t he? He made $1.05 million last year, which also was a record for a pre-arbitration-eligible player.

“I’m happy for KB,” team president Theo Epstein said. “I thought he got a fair and record award, which just shows a lot of special things he’s been able to accomplish and special teams he’s been on as well.”

If that continues at anything close to the current rate, the Cubs will have Bryant for exactly four more shots at trying to win another World Series title — likely paying him top arbitration dollar annually for the pleasure.

“When you look at this year, yeah, it is a little strange,” Bryant said of a free-agent market in which every player expected to command at least four years and more than $20 million per year is still unsigned. “But there’s cycles in this game. It seems to be just a weird market right now.

“I think the biggest thing as players is just belief in yourself, and if you go out and perform on the field, then you’re going to be wanted as a player. That’s been my mindset since I was in high school: Perform on the field and you’ll get what you deserve. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Many in the game are looking at this year’s slowdown as the beginning of a possible trend, caused more by relatively low luxury-tax payroll thresholds in the second-year collective bargaining agreement (relative to fast-growing revenues), than by the desire to save for next year’s more superstar-studded class.

“I really don’t see it that way,” said Bryant, who could top his free agency class in a few years. “When you look at revenues in baseball, they just continue to expand and [to] just astronomical numbers. The next free agent class is going to be pretty interesting.”

That could be the truer test of any trend, he implied.

“There’s some huge names,” said Bryant, who is only under club control for a seventh season (through 2021) because the Cubs kept him in the minors for two weeks as a rookie to manipulate his service time.

“I mean, [Clayton] Kershaw [with an opt-out clause] — anybody would love to have that guy. [Josh] Donaldson, [Bryce] Harper, [Manny] Machado. I mean, it’s unbelievable to think what they’re going to get, and hopefully, they’ll go out there and get what they deserve.”

Maybe even set the bar for the next class of MVP free agents.

Until then, he’ll worry about trying to set records on the field.

“I want to be the best on the field. I want to be the best player in the league,” he said. “And there’s nothing in my mind that’s going to stop me.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.


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