Kris Bryant’s status with Cubs to remain in limbo even if they can’t pull off a trade this winter

The budget-strained Cubs would clear perhaps $18 million or more in Bryant’s projected arbitration salary for 2020 with a trade while presumably receiving in return a package of younger players who might help their efforts to extend their competitive window.

SHARE Kris Bryant’s status with Cubs to remain in limbo even if they can’t pull off a trade this winter
Agent Scott Boras conducts his annual winter meetings media session Tuesday in San Diego.

Agent Scott Boras conducts his annual winter meetings media session Tuesday in San Diego.

Gordon Wittenmyer/Sun-Times

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs won’t “force” the action as they look at potential trades of their big-league core, team president Theo Epstein said. And that might even mean star third baseman Kris Bryant is still with the team when they open the season on March 26.

In fact, two would-be trade partners, the Phillies and Nationals, are out until further notice, when it comes to Bryant, according to sources. That leaves the Angels and Braves as the top landing spots in a musical-chairs exercise that also involves free agents Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

But even if Bryant is still in a Cubs uniform by the opener, his long-term status with the club remains in significant limbo.

Consider that while general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged that the club is engaged in contract extension talks with one or more of its young core players (Javy Baez has been talking to the club since last month, sources said), Bryant is not one of them.

“We’re always in communication with them,” Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, said on Tuesday when asked about a possible multiyear extension for Bryant. “We’re discussing his arbitration values and contract as we speak. We’ll leave it up to them whether they want to explore that.”

Boras wouldn’t say whether he expected Bryant to remain a Cub through the winter.

Hoyer said the Cubs are rethinking their past practice of taking extension talks with players into spring training. Which means if they’re not talking now, don’t expect that to change, at least until next winter — if Bryant’s still around.

The budget-strained Cubs would clear perhaps $18 million or more in Bryant’s projected arbitration salary for 2020 with a trade while presumably receiving in return a package of younger players who might help their efforts to extend their competitive window.

The Cubs and Bryant still are awaiting and arbitrator’s decision on Bryant’s grievance over service-time manipulation — when the Cubs secured a seventh year of club control by delaying his big-league debut by two weeks in 2015.

Team president Theo Epstein echoed the widely held industry presumption that the team will prevail and preserve the extra year of control that means two years of remaining control instead of one as the Cubs discuss trade scenarios with other clubs.

Boras said he shared no such presumption – regardless of how much of a long shot it seems that an arbitrator would essentially blow up the game’s service-time system by ruling for Bryant.

“I don’t have a predictive course with that,” Boras said. “I think that anyone that would make a suggestion like that would be outside the realm of his expertise because of the fact that arbitrators think and operate in a realm that is unto their own.

“And so to say we’re going to predict what judges do or why they do it, I would suggest that is a bold opinion.”

Refreshed market for Russell?

Boras, who also represents former Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, suggested a firm free agent market for Russell, who was non-tendered by the Cubs last week, seven months after he finished serving a 40-game suspension for domestic violence.

“Addison Russell is an excellent major league player, and he’s very young,” said Boras of the 2016 All-Star, who is still just 25. “We fully anticipate he’ll be playing in the major leagues starting for somebody.”

What kind of attention has Russell received so far?

“There are different types of meetings that we go to right now,” said Boras, who represents Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and several more of the top free agents on the market. “We’re dealing with the major free agents, and we have a level of interest where teams have contacted us. They’re taking care of some multiyear contract considerations in a lot of cases. Then they’re going to get to filling their spots on other levels. So we’ll see.”

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