Cubs’ Kris Bryant has replaced Joe Maddon as head of the dead-man-walking department

Theo Epstein and the Cubs are trying to trade Bryant. He probably won’t be a Cub for long. If he’s back with the team in 2020, great; it’ll be his swan song on the North Side, his lame-duck waddle. Epstein and the Cubs are bent on getting out of the Bryant business.

SHARE Cubs’ Kris Bryant has replaced Joe Maddon as head of the dead-man-walking department
Savor the image of a Kris Bryant home run at Wrigley Field.

Savor the image of a Kris Bryant home run at Wrigley Field.

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

During the 2018 season, when his injured left shoulder was screaming at him and his power was suffering as a result, Kris Bryant became well aware of the criticism he was receiving on social media, on sports-talk radio and elsewhere.

He was playing hurt — as he has done often in his time with the Cubs — but still there were calls for the Cubs to give up on him.

“ ‘Get rid of him,’ ‘trade him,’ — I was like, man, people are saying that about me?” Bryant recalled a year later. “People have nothing but bad things to say about you when bad things are happening. That hurts.”

It was one thing for the organization to keep Bryant at arm’s length. It was another thing for his romance with fans to fizzle, but that’s what happened.

The romance hasn’t fully reheated since then, either, nor is it likely to. Not with Bryant having replaced ex-manager Joe Maddon as the head of the team’s dead-man-walking department.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs are trying to trade Bryant. He probably won’t be a Cub for long. If he’s back with the team in 2020, great; it’ll be his swan song on the North Side, his lame-duck waddle.

Epstein and the Cubs are bent on getting out of the Bryant business.

Congrats to Epstein and his formidable brain. Congrats to the Ricketts family and their overflowing piggy bank. And congrats to Cubs fans who are fond of complaining that Bryant is overrated, is injury-prone, isn’t clutch, etc.

He won’t be here to kick around much longer.

First, the Cubs messed with Bryant’s mojo by sending him to the minors out of a 2015 spring training in which he hit .425 with nine homers. It wasn’t about what was best for a great young player. It was about finagling another year of club control over his contract.

Despite that bitter taste of reality, Bryant soared right from his earliest opportunity, wining 2015 NL Rookie of the Year. Next came an MVP season in which the Cubs won the World Series, ending a 108-year drought with a Bryant slip-and-smile as he threw the ball across the diamond to first base in Cleveland.

The Cubs could’ve thrown all-in with the poster boy of their success. Bryant is the best player Epstein ever has drafted. He is the best hitter the Cubs have had since, well, we could debate how many decades to go back on that. He’s the kid next door with the movie-star looks and — at 27 years old — his prime on-field years in front of him.

Bryant could’ve been the Cubs’ Derek Jeter.

That’s not happening — period.

The Cubs are trying to trade Bryant, and perhaps the oddest thing about it is how little outcry there is about that back on the home front.

But, hey, keep on obsessing over Mitch Trubisky. The Mike Olt of Bears quarterbacks is totally worth it.

Just sayin’

Let’s start with the good news, Bulls fans: There’s bound to be another halfway decent player available at No. 7 in the 2020 draft.

Unfortunately, the Bulls — a tire fire of hopelessness and despair at 8-17 — seem destined again for the land of Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White.

A better organization surely would be making better use of those three talented former No. 7 picks. With the Bulls, though, they belong to a roster that continues to add up to less than the sum of its parts.

How’s that Gregg Popovich impersonation going, Jim Boylen?

The Bulls haven’t met a fourth-quarter lead they weren’t more than capable of gagging away. It happened again Monday in a 93-92 loss to the Raptors. Boylen’s starting unit allowing an eight-point advantage to disappear into the darkness of the mostly empty upper levels at the United Center.

The capper was an amateurish final possession, when Zach LaVine dribbled into the teeth of a collapsing defense and badly missed an awkward-angle layup attempt over 6-11 Marc Gasol.

LaVine could’ve laid the ball off to rookie big man Daniel Gafford, who was roaming free on the baseline, for an easy go-ahead dunk. Denzel Valentine and Tomas Satoransky were options, too, each in wide-open catch-and-shoot position at the three-point line.

“We’ll watch this, we’ll learn from it and we’ll grow,” Boylen said, convincing no one.

It’s a low-IQ team with some low-motor players, a low bar at coach and a low-performing front office.

Other than that, everything’s great.

• LaVine’s late-game decision-making vs. the Blackhawks’ Robin Lehner’s shootout goaltending.

Discuss.

• Speaking of Hawks goalies, Corey Crawford has suffered devastating concussions the last two Decembers. It’s a reminder that no matter how well he continues to play, or doesn’t, it’ll be a meaningful victory just to flip the calendar in a few weeks while in good health.

• White Sox general manager Rick Hahn from baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego: “There is simply no urgency to get anything done here. We would love to knock off everything on our list while we’re all together here, but that’s no different than how we were approaching our business last week or the week before, or the week before Thanksgiving when we signed Yasmani [Grandal].”

Translation: Have you tried the fish tacos?

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