There was little traction between reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant and the Cubs in their extension talks earlier this winter, so it perhaps isn’t surprising that Bryant doesn’t seem to be in any particular rush to lock up a long-term commitment.
“I guess it’s a little early,” Bryant told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I still feel super young. I’m still getting used to all of this playing at this level. I’ll listen to whatever they have to say, but I just think that it might be in my best interest to just play it out and see where things go….I’d rather just now focus on baseball and playing and not have any other distractions off the field like that, just because it’ll take away from my play on the field.”
Bryant, of course, has already pulled down a couple of notable paydays in his brief but outstanding professional career. The 25-year-old signed with the Cubs for a $6.7084 bonus after being drafted second overall in 2013, and he will be paid $1.05MM in 2017, a record sum for a pre-arbitration player. He will also be in line for a very enriching trip through the arbitration process beginning next winter, as Bryant is a virtual lock for a fourth year of arb eligibility as a Super Two player.
Given that Bryant entered tonight’s action with a .290/.396/.495 slash line over his 111 PA, he looks well on the way to matching or topping his superb numbers from his first two seasons, when he won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015 and followed it up with an MVP Award in 2016. Bryant may well set another arbitration-related record in the offseason by earning the highest amount ever given to a player in his first year of arb-eligibility; Ryan Howard’s $10MM salary from the 2007-08 offseason is the current benchmark. Barring injury or a significant downturn in performance, Bryant looks to be on pace to bank over $50MM through his four arbitration years before reaching free agency after the 2021 season.
Besides his comments and the lack of a driving financial incentive to sign a multi-year extension, there’s also the fact that Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, whose clients generally end up testing the open market rather than pursuing extensions with their original teams. Boras recently discussed the Bryant talks, negotiating with Theo Epstein, and his general outlook on extensions in a wide-ranging and fascinating interview with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci.
From the Cubs’ perspective, obviously they would like to keep one of the game’s best players in the fold, though there is also a case to be made that the Cubs may have no issue with going year-to-year with Bryant. Extensions that cover arbitration years usually lock in some type of cost certainty for the team, though that is of less import with the Cubs given their payroll capacity.
The Cubs also have such a wealth of talent both on their current roster and in the minor league pipeline that, while losing Bryant would certainly be a blow, Chicago is much better-equipped than most franchises to withstand the loss of a superstar. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer could instead focus on extensions with other young stars like Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez — more urgently, the team will have to address big names like Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and John Lackey hitting free agency this winter. With Bryant still under control for four-plus seasons, inking him to an extension isn’t an especially pressing need for the Cubs, and of course quite a bit could change on either side between now and the end of the 2021 season.