From the outside, things seem kind of weird between the Cubs and Kris Bryant. I don’t know. Maybe that’s nothing new (and maybe it’s entirely different internally), but with the trade deadline coming up and the Cubs self-identified as sellers, his name is once again being floated in rumors like it was all offseason. Making things even weirder, Cubs President Jed Hoyer could potentially see the value in holding onto Bryant through the deadline, perhaps giving one last shot at an extension before otherwise collecting the compensation draft pick the Cubs would get when he leaves in free agency after declining the qualifying offer.
But whether he gets sent away now or leaves on his own later, there’s this feeling that we’re reaching the end of his time with the Cubs. I mean, this is not something you typically hear from a guy who’s definitely sticking around, right? “If [a deadline trade] does happen,” Bryant said via NBC Sports Chicago, “whatever team I do go to will get a guy that’s going to go out there and give it all he’s got and play wherever they need me to play.”
Don’t get me wrong, that’s an awesome thing to hear from a player whether you’re trying to trade him or not. But it’s also (1) a sobering reminder of what’s on everyone’s mind and (2) a bit of a sales pitch for the soon-to-be free agent.
And when you combine that line with this other quote from his trip out to Denver, your mind really starts racing.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 13, 2021
In case you can’t hear/watch, here’s the important part:
Question: “If you knew for the next 5-10 years, you would only play one position … what position would that be?”
Bryant: “Center field.”
With almost no hesitation *at all* Bryant said center field would be the position he’d most like to play if he could play only one position for the rest of his career. And he followed that up with a believable “I love center, there’s something about being out there, man.”
Okay, then. That’s a bit of news, even if, again, it’s a little self-serving for a guy who’s about to be a free agent (and also just a fun answer to give on a red carpet).
Remember, before this season, Bryant hadn’t started a game in center field since his debut in 2015 and had covered just 7.0 innings total in center field (usually in a pinch/after an injury) since. But this season, Bryant has started 10 games in center, playing in 14 total games while covering the position for 83.2 innings. That’s not enough to use advanced defensive metrics to measure anything, but I can tell you that to my eye, he has looked perfectly fine out there. Not spectacular, but not a liability. And that’s actually quite impressive when you consider that he’s had very little experience there for years (imagine how good he’d be if he got start after start out there – probably pretty close to average over the course of a full season, which, with his bat, would be a huge, huge value).
No matter what, I think Bryant’s best play in free agency will include an open invitation to play him anywhere, but if he’s truly more than just open to playing center field, he could catch the attention of a few aggressive GMs out there in free agency.
For what it’s worth, Wrigley Field might be a particularly good place for Bryant to log time in center field. For one, the Cubs don’t really have a center fielder running away with the job (and top prospect Brennen Davis has yet to play at the Triple-A level). For another more important point, Wrigley Field has a relatively small center field, which has always allowed less talented defensive outfielders to be just fine there (that’s how it worked with Dexter Fowler, for one example). Alas. I think an extension remains extremely unlikely.
I wanted to point this out, but I couldn’t figure out where to put it: After a rocket start to the season (172 wRC+ through May), Bryant had a really rough month of June (26 wRC+) due – in part – to a hamstring injury that kept him out briefly. Since returning, however, Bryant has 10 hits and 2 walks in 29 plate appearances, including a double and a homer, good for a 157 wRC+. Point being, when he’s healthy, he hits. And if he also plays center field full time, that is one valuable player.