Today, the Cubs went ahead and placed third baseman Kris Bryant back on the disabled list with a balky shoulder. It’s the second time Bryant has gone to the DL – the first cost him nearly three weeks – but he was dealing with the shoulder issue for upwards of a month before he went on the DL the first time.
If that has the sound of the kind of ongoing shoulder issue that simply isn’t going to go away with a short rest followed by lots and lots of heavy usage, well, yeah, that’s how it strikes me, too.
No one wants to yet say it’s a surgery situation – heck, we don’t even really know what the underlying issue is – but that’s kind of the monstrous and terrifying pink elephant that everyone is tap-dancing around. Joe Maddon has consistently talked about rest and pain management, and the Cubs even conceded that they’d worked with Bryant on a swing change to help reduce the strain he was putting on that left shoulder. Again, that sounds like the kind of stuff you do when you know a guy needs way more rest or surgery, but you or he or both feel he might be able to get through the season as an effective player, and then the rest or surgery can take place when there aren’t games to be won.
But it could also be that everyone involved just kinda doesn’t know exactly how bad things are, or when it could all clear up. They just know that it isn’t good right now, and no one wants to see Bryant out there dramatically changing what he does, making things worse, and playing poorly to boot.
To that end:
#Cubs Bryant tried to manage soreness in left shoulder, but wasn't seeing improvement to where it was going away. KB will have another MRI to make sure nothing was missed 1st time. Then doctors will put a plan into place–no return timetable.
— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) July 26, 2018
So I guess we’ll learn more soon. If the MRI shows only inflammation, we’re probably looking at more of the same – rest, waiting, testing, resting, waiting, etc. The reality is that, even in that good scenario, it’s realistic to expect that Bryant will be out for a while, and then return as a lesser version of himself for the rest of the season. You hope for better, of course, but you deal with the reality in front of you.
In a bad scenario, something structural is observed, and everyone’s got a decision to make. The injury is not to Bryant’s throwing shoulder, so that’s good, but shoulder’s are rough, man. I have a hard time seeing even a minor procedure not putting Bryant down for multiple months, and very likely ending his season. Bryant, himself, may prefer to keep trying to play through it and defer surgery to the offseason. The Cubs maybe won’t want that. Or maybe it’ll be the reverse. Or maybe the doctors will be adamant about the right approach and the decision will be easy. We won’t know until we know.
The Cubs are fortunate to have the positional depth and versatility that they do, not only to play well in Bryant’s absence, but also to be able to wait him out through the trade deadline without feeling compelled to make a back-over-a-barrel trade.
But let’s be really clear: although the Cubs can and probably would make the playoffs even without Bryant, getting there and succeeding there is certainly no easier without him.