By passing on Kris Bryant, Astros handed Cubs a superstar

By passing on Kris Bryant, Astros handed Cubs a superstar

Kris Bryant, a self-motivated, process-oriented student with an overall resume that made him a Rhodes Scholar candidate, still likes to write down his goals as a daily reminder, even during a dream season that might make him the National League’s MVP. 

Bryant reached almost all of those statistical benchmarks during his junior year at the University of San Diego, leading the nation in homers (31), walks (66), runs scored (80) and slugging percentage (.820), earning national player of the year awards from USA Baseball, Baseball America and Louisville Slugger. 

But Bryant never put this down on paper: Become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

That, ultimately, would be out of Bryant’s control, so he would not focus on it or stress about a decision that forever changed the course of franchise history, maybe making this The Year the Cubs finally win their first World Series since 1908. 

The Houston Astros will get an up-close look at the face-of-the-franchise player they could have had in the middle of their lineup during this weekend’s series at Minute Maid Park, where only the Cubs come in as the team living up to the 2017 World Series hype Sports Illustrated once predicted, only a year ahead of schedule.

“Not to take anything away from the Astros,” Bryant said, following the Derek Jeter playbook for media interviews. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. But, yeah, who wouldn’t want to play here? Especially now, with everything that’s going on, the (Wrigley) renovations and the city of Chicago – there’s just so much going for it that it’s the perfect spot to play.”

To be fair, even the Cubs didn’t have a unanimous opinion within their draft room as Theo Epstein’s front office discussed what to do with the second pick in the 2013 draft, even after the Astros grabbed Stanford University pitcher Mark Appel.

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But this much is clear: The Cubs have repeatedly chosen hitters over pitchers, making offense their priority in the draft, in trades and on the free-agent market, viewing that as a much safer and stronger investment than the inherent risk that comes with throwing a baseball 95 mph over and over again.    

The Cubs also wondered about Appel’s ceiling and competitive streak, not sure how he would perform outside the Palo Alto bubble, concerns that have played out in professional baseball.  

Houston packaged Appel in a December trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for hard-throwing reliever Ken Giles. Appel – who has a 5.04 career ERA in the minors – made eight starts for Philadelphia’s Triple-A affiliate before undergoing season-ending surgery on his right elbow.

“Honestly, I don’t remember having any conversations with the Astros or sitting down with them,” Bryant said. “I feel like they had their mind made up way in advance.”

While the Astros are known as a secretive, unconventional organization, Bryant had inside information, because he and Appel share the same agent: Scott Boras.  

Boras Corp. almost operates as a 31st franchise, a full-service agency with legal, marketing, scouting and training operations. Clients are programmed to say whatever enhances their leverage – how happy you would be just to get an opportunity to play baseball for a living – and pretend that every team is equal.    

Bryant met with Cubs executives Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod in a hotel lobby in Stockton, California, during the West Coast Conference tournament. Bryant believed he wouldn’t drop past the Colorado Rockies at No. 3. Imagine Bryant’s numbers – .302 average and 36 homers and 91 RBI already this season – if he played half his games at Coors Field. The Rockies wound up with Jon Gray, a University of Oklahoma flamethrower the Cubs also scouted heavily and considered taking at No. 2. 

“I was a little biased towards the Cubs, just because I grew up watching WGN,” Bryant said. “I watched Cubs games and you see Wrigley Field and the history. It’s the fact that you could come here and win a World Series. All that stuff is very attractive. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? 

“Of course, going through the draft process, you got to say the same thing to every team and that type of thing. But, I mean, playing here (and) wearing the pinstripes – you can’t go wrong with that.”

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Bryant has also capitalized on the platform he never would have gotten in a football-crazy state like Texas. Walk around a mall in San Diego or suburban Chicago and you see his face on advertisements for Express and adidas. 

“I never expected that stuff,” Bryant said. “I remember having conversations with my mom – one of my friends got drafted and they’re like giving him free clothes and stuff. I’m like: ‘Mom, that would be so cool if I could get free clothes.’ And now it’s like you have to do photo shoots and (then) get the free clothes.

“No, I never expected that. It’s awesome opportunities for myself. And, obviously, Chicago has a huge role in that, (along with) the Cubs and the fans and the whole city, so it’s hard for me not to be grateful for that. 

“But like I said (before), I enjoy it. It’s fun. I couldn’t be in a better spot for that type of stuff. Nothing against any other city out there – I just think (with) Chicago, people want to go there. People want to be there.”

The Astros still won a wild-card game at Yankee Stadium last year and find themselves back in a crowded American League playoff race this season. Houston nailed the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft – reigning AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa – but wasted the same pick two years later, failing to sign high school pitcher Brady Aiken.

Whatever resentment general manager Jeff Luhnow ignited during the extreme rebuild – with his Ivy League/MBA background and all-access pass that landed the Astros on a 2014 Sports Illustrated cover as “Your 2017 World Series Champs” – has to be flickering now after the St. Louis Cardinals committed white-collar crime and hacked into the “Ground Control” database.   

But in passing on Bryant, the Astros handed the Cubs a superstar already on a Hall of Fame trajectory at the age of 24. 

“Looking back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing that has happened,” Bryant said. “I’m in the perfect situation here. Nothing against the Astros or anything – they’re a great team and they’re fun to watch. But playing for the Cubs is something special.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.