Cubs

Cubs respond to Kris Bryant’s grievance: ‘We were in the right’

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Cubs respond to Kris Bryant’s grievance: ‘We were in the right’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Kris Bryant’s storybook season came with an asterisk, the Cubs manipulating the service-time system, stashing him at Triple-A Iowa in early April and delaying his free agency by a year.

It apparently bothered Bryant and super-agent Scott Boras enough that the National League Rookie of the Year filed a grievance against the Cubs, Yahoo! Sports reported Monday as the winter meetings began in Nashville, Tennessee.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said the club has been aware of the Major League Baseball Players Association action since May.

“Nothing’s really changed since then,” Hoyer said while meeting with the Chicago media inside an Opryland suite. “The fact that the news came out today doesn’t really change anything about where we are. Obviously, we feel like we were in the right, but I’m not going to comment on the case or open this back up.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs continue adding to pitching staff with Trevor Cahill’s $4.25 million deal]

The Yahoo! report also identified Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco as involved in the grievance process. Franco (170) and Bryant (171) finished just short of the 172 days needed for a full year of service, closing their free-agent windows until after the 2021 season.

Hoyer didn’t reveal anything about potential hearings or next steps in the process with the union, an All-Star third baseman and the game’s most powerful agent.

“It was filed in May – and to the best of my knowledge – it sits in the same place it has been,” Hoyer said. “It’s something we’ve known about for a long time. And it certainly doesn’t change our impression of the player or his representation at all.

“We’ve got a great relationship with Kris. We’ve got a great relationship with Scott.”

Setting service-time clocks for elite young players is essentially viewed as standard operating procedure within front offices and Bryant became a billboard for the issue in spring training.

Bryant – the second overall pick in the 2013 draft – began this year as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect after hitting .325 with 43 homers and 110 RBI in 2014.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Bryant lived up to the hype after making his big-league debut on April 17, admitting he played with a chip on his shoulder while finishing with 26 homers and 99 RBI for a team that won 97 games and two postseason rounds.

“I think Kris proved his point that he didn’t need any further minor-league (experience),” Boras said during last month’s GM meetings in South Florida. “Unless you can argue the seven games of Triple-A baseball dramatically allowed him to improve, I think he proved his point that he’s an All-Star player and a huge part of a franchise.

“Our point was that in the ethic of the game, I think it’s good for Kris – and for the fans and everyone (else) – that they understand that the rules of the game often allow teams to do things that are unrelated to the best interests of the team or the true talent evaluation of the player.

“It’s perfectly appropriate under the rules for clubs to say that they can do that. I just think you (should) have (better rules), a better ethic to it. Because in the end, we want to make sure our fans know the best players are always playing in the big leagues all the time.”

This issue looms larger with the current labor deal set to expire after the 2016 season, but Hoyer said there’s no bad blood between the Cubs and Bryant.

“He’s a consummate professional,” Hoyer said. “This guy is a baseball rat (and) you felt like he was a veteran by the time we got to September or October. He bounced back from a little slump in the middle of the season to have a great season (and) showed us a lot of maturity with that.

“Our relationship with him never wavered for a minute throughout this process. So if that was the case, that would be something we’d be concerned about. But it hasn’t. We love having him – and we’re going to have him for a long time.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”