I’m not saying it was the only thing I was looking for in last night’s game – clearly, any Cardinals game has its own layers, as does any Adbert Alzolay start – but I was definitely most curious to see if Kris Bryant actually got a pinch-hitting appearance, and then, if he did, how he would look.
Bryant was brought in to pinch hit to lead off the 8th inning of a one-run game, facing a lefty reliever, so a wholly appropriate spot for an available guy to come in. But after he walked, and slowly jogged to first, you kinda knew he wasn’t running those bases. Jason Heyward tagged him out, and that was it for Bryant. Not a ton of information beyond, Yes, he was available off of the bench for a limited role.
The meaty question now is whether Bryant’s fatigued hamstring or heavy legs or dozing musculature or whatever euphemism the Cubs want to drop will allow him to start a game today at Wrigley Field, and play the full nine. It’s crystal clear to me, at this point, that he’s not 100%, and also the Cubs are protecting a possible trade asset. So if I’m a possible trade partner, there’s just zero chance pulling the trigger on a significant package* for Bryant if I don’t see him out there playing normally this weekend. And even then, I’m having to accept the idea that I’ll have to manage his load for a while. That’s probably true for lots of players given the pandemic season, but clearly it’s the case for Bryant.
For his part, Cubs manager David Ross told reporters before last night’s game that he’s expecting Bryant to be back in the starting lineup today, and added that trade possibilities do not play into his decisions on whether Bryant has played.
“My decision-making is a broad spectrum, for sure,” Ross said, per Cubs com. “But in this scenario, that has not been a factor.”
To that I’d say a few things: (1) We know that Ross manages the information he shares publicly very carefully, to the point that sometimes it’s just straight up not true; (2) I do believe that the Cubs front office mostly permits the manager to handle these decisions unilaterally without their micromanaging; and (3) I sure as shit hope Ross is in communication with Jed Hoyer about playing decisions as it relates to possibly injured trade pieces! If he’s not, it’s a total dereliction of responsibility by both Ross and Hoyer. I tend to think, as a guy who spent time in the front office, Ross is smart enough to know where he needs to be cautious. But still, if you’re Hoyer, you’re having those conversations with him. You just are. I don’t buy this one.
Are we entirely back to where we started? Believing that Bryant may or may not play today, and if he doesn’t, it may mean he’s legit injured or it may mean the Cubs are just keeping him out while trade talks proceed? Yup! We know nothing more for certain than what Bryant shows us on the field. Last night, it was a walk, and nothing more. Today? We’ll see.
*(Did you see how much the Twins got for a pure DH in Nelson Cruz? A better bat than Bryant’s overall, I’m sure, but they could sell him to only half the league, and he can’t play a position, let alone five.)