MESA, Arizona — Let’s get one thing straight about Kris Bryant leading off and moving off third base to play in the outfield more this year: It doesn’t suddenly mean he won’t be traded at the July 31 trade deadline if the Cubs don’t get off to a strong enough start — although Bryant did say Thursday that manager David Ross “seems to think I’m going to be here.”
And contrary to some theories being floated publicly, it’s not likely to lower his value as a free agent or prospective extension candidate.
That might sound like two things to get straight. But they might as well be one, because the former MVP could be about to go old-school gas pump on his free agent asking price — ding, ding, ding, ding — if this leadoff thing works the way the team envisions.
Consider that 17 players in the majors had .380-plus on-base percentages with .500-plus slugging percentages last year, and only five have career marks at that combined level, including Bryant.
Of the five, two (the Mets’ Jeff McNeil and the Nationals’ Juan Soto) have two years or less in the majors and one (Houston’s Alex Bregman) is a cheater. That leaves the Angels’ Mike Trout and Bryant.
“How many of those  players have the capability of playing two or more major-league positions?” said Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, when asked about what direction the three-time All-Star’s value might change with his changing role.
“This is the man who is on the island,” Boras added. “In our office, that’s how we refer to Kris Bryant. He’s the ‘Island Boy.’ He can be the leadoff hitter, and he can be a 3 or 4 hitter. And he can play five positions. He is the ‘Island Boy.’ ”
It probably goes without saying that Boras looks through the Bryant changing-role lens with a certain business-related bias.
But that doesn’t mean his overall point is awrong: Bryant, who averaged 100 RBI his first two seasons and has hit more than 30 homers twice, figures to only raise his market value if he shows the success in the Cubs’ leadoff spot that Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Albert Almora couldn’t achieve in extended shots at it.
And in a game that increasingly values versatility in almost every facet, success in the outfield — especially in center — certainly won’t hurt that value as Bryant nears potential free agency after the 2021 season.
“As good of an at-bat [as he provides] and all he brings in the third baseman he is, he also brings a ton of value with his versatility,” Ross said this week when discussing his 2020 plans with Bryant. “His position is third, but there’s a lot of options with him. . . . He’s got those long strides in the outfield; I love the way he moves around.”
Bryant, who has a career .901 OPS, is a good third baseman, can back up second and first, and can play all three outfield spots.
“The point is, he’s proven he can be a 3-4 hitter. Now he’s a versatile lineup guy in addition to being a versatile defensive guy,” Boras said. “He has every gear. This is truly a rare-air thing.”
Ding, ding, ding, ding?
It’s probably no coincidence that Boras repeatedly used former Red Sox MVP Mookie Betts (.893 career OPS) as a specific comparison point when discussing Bryant’s value.
Betts, who has starts at two outfield spots and second base in his career, reportedly turned down a 10-year extension offer from the Red Sox for $310 million before being traded to the Dodgers with pitcher David Price in a payroll dump.
“How valuable is Kris Bryant?” Boras said. “He is truly glue. He’s the glue of the team, where if there is a gap offensively or defensively he’s there to fill it.
“Now he just needs an appropriate nickname, and that is ‘Elmer,’ ’’ Boras said. “Because he’s Elmer’s Glue for the Cubs.”