Elephant in the ballroom: Kris Bryant to take center stage at Cubs Convention for wrong reasons

The team’s best hitter, the 2016 NL MVP and World Series hero, remains at the center of trade rumors during a Cubs Convention with apparently little for fans to celebrate.

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Kris Bryant greets fans at the 2018 Cubs Convention.

Kris Bryant greets fans at the 2018 Cubs Convention.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Three years to the week after the Cubs celebrated a World Series championship at the White House, the guy who moved in after they left has been impeached, and some of the Cubs can only wish they had it so good.

Looking for something to get excited about at the Cubs Convention this weekend? Good luck.

The Cubs haven’t added a major-league player since their 84-win disappointment of 2019. They’re one of only two teams that can claim that dubious distinction during this $2 billion winter of free agency.

And while the new manager is professing undying love and optimism for the third-place holdovers — many of them former teammates — there will be no escaping the three-time All-Star elephant in the ballroom at the Sheraton Grand.

Until or unless the Cubs unveil some splashy, shocking acquisition, this convention is all about what might be a final, up-close look at 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant — and the unsavory business of luxury taxes and billionaire profit margins that have pushed his name into the most serious trade talks of his career.

Stuck in payroll purgatory because of commitments that have their roster pressing against baseball’s luxury-tax threshold for what would be a second consecutive season, the Cubs have been on hold this offseason until they can move enough salary to add significant players.

For now, first-year manager David Ross said he’s excited about his largely unchanged roster and added during a Cubs charity event: “KB’s on the roster. I expect him to be there. I think the fans should expect him to be there.”

Breaking news after four months of Bryant rumors?

Not exactly.

“I don’t know how else to look at it, if I’m a fan or a manager,” Ross said when pressed for his rationale, insisting he has no hard information to make a more reliable prediction.

“I’m not in those meetings with Jed [Hoyer] and Theo [Epstein]. They don’t talk to me about who might be or who might [not]. I wait and see. I talk to those guys daily and expect them to put us in the best situation to succeed. That’s their job. My job’s to manage the team they give me.

“If KB gets traded, if [Kyle] Schwarber gets traded, those are things I’m not privy to. That’s on Jed and Theo, and they’ll hand me that Opening Day roster when I get it. I plan on going to spring training with Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester and Yu Darvish.”

The best-laid plans of mice and Cubs might yet lead to Ross’ hope and vision for Bryant’s continued employment with the team that drafted him second overall in 2013.

But even if he’s in spring training, the rumors aren’t likely to go away until Opening Day — if not the trade deadline in July.

“Right now I look at that roster, and Kris Bryant’s on it, and he’s at the Cubs Convention,” Ross said.

For now that means Bryant enters the annual event with the spotlight in his face and the rumors only stirred again this week when the last big free-agent third baseman, Josh Donaldson, signed a four-year deal with the Twins.

That left the Nationals and Braves without an established third baseman when the music stopped on the free-agent market at that position.

While talks with the Braves are expected to resume, according to some reports, other reports out of Atlanta downplayed the Braves’ interest at this point, especially given the high asking price industry sources say the Cubs have placed on Bryant.

The Nationals — who consider the Cubs’ request for outfielder Victor Robles a non-starter — also might turn to other alternatives at this late point in the offseason, according to a source, rather than pay a hefty price in player capital for a trade only to also be on the hook for what might be $45 million in salary for Bryant over the next two seasons.

And that’s assuming the Cubs and MLB prevail in Bryant’s grievance over service-time manipulation, thereby preserving the full two years of club control they now have.

Sources this week said they expect a decision by the end of the month, but several insiders said in November that they expected a decision in December.

Where does that leave Bryant?

Ross and Rizzo said Bryant was “in a good place” when they talked to him recently.

And a source from Bryant’s camp said he started hitting work and work with a trainer earlier this offseason than he has in the past. He also was feeling stronger and healthier than he has in recent winters.

“He told me he got a tan in Hawaii,” Rizzo said. “I didn’t believe him. He wouldn’t send me a picture.

“He’s excited,” Rizzo added, referring to the first child Bryant and his wife, Jess, are expecting in April.

“He knows it’s a rumor until it happens. It’s the MVP of the league a couple of years ago, a guy who puts up consistent numbers. We hope he’s on our side, that’s for sure.”

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