Cubs

Bryce Harper is flirting with Chicago

Bryce Harper is flirting with Chicago

Bryce Harper's flirtation with Chicago and his bff Kris Bryant is growing.

Case in point:

TUESDAY: The superstar slugger was spotted at a Blackhawks game Tuesday night sitting center stage in his hometown of Las Vegas, notably NOT wearing any Golden Knights gear.

MONDAY: Bryce Harper took a photo with fans while wearing a Bulls hat.

ALSO MONDAY: Harper included a snap of his dog on his Instagram story. His dog's name? Wrigley.

Tracking back further

Oct. 11: Harper posts a photo of the Wrigley marquee after Game 4 of the NLDS, stating, "Until next time! Love this place":

August 5: The wives of Harper and Bryant got together to stir the pot themselves, even using the hashtag #HarperToTheCubs, while saying, "Fans want it...& we are more than good with this idea..."

June 27: Harper posted an Instagram photo with Kris Bryant and their wives after a Cubs-Nationals game using the hashtag #Back2BackOneDay

June 4: Peter Gammons really got the ball rolling on the Harper-to-Chicago train when he hopped on the Mully and Hanley Show and said, "I have people tell me that Bryce Harper really would prefer to play for the Cubs."

And then there was that one time in May 2015 when Harper was sporting a Blackhawks T-shirt.

Now the other side:

Let's play Party Pooper and put on our Debbie Downer hats here for a second.

On July 9, Harper told the Washington Post he loves trolling people, like that Instagram hashtag with Bryant:

"I do that to the media because they stir it more than I do. That's why i do the things I do at times, because it's funny to me. It's like, 'Alright, people want to talk about this and talk about that. Why not just throw this out there and make them think about it?'"

Well, he's made us think about it, that's for sure.

Harper and his agent — Scott Boras — have a lot to gain by getting the Cubs involved and with the natural tie-in there with hometown buddy Bryant already, it's a perfect fit to help drive up the price tag.

If Harper and his camp want $400 million, the best way to get that is to get the Cubs involved, even if the chances are incredibly low that he signs there. There are probably several people at Boras Corp. right now whose main focus is helping craft a public image for Harper.

He is the kind of guy who knows any hat he wears or T-shirt he rocks is scrutinized, so he and his people undoubtedly spend a ton of time thinking about that and analyzing those decisions before he even steps foot in public.

From the Cubs' perspective, it will be hard to figure the money out to make Harper-to-Chicago a reality.

Jason Heyward has a player opt-out in his contract after the 2018 season, but right now, it seems there is no way he takes it. He's due $106 million from the start of 2019, including $20 million that season alone and obviously his best position is also right field.

The Cubs also have 2019 money committed to Jon Lester ($22.5 million), Ben Zobrist ($12 million) and Anthony Rizzo ($11 million) plus options on Jose Quintana ($10.5 million) and Pedro Strop ($6.25 million) that are likely to be exercised as of right now. That's $82.25 million committed to just six players (assuming the options are picked up), plus Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell in their second years of arbitration with Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Mike Montgomery in their first years of arbitration.

The money would be really, really difficult to manage if Harper gets $30-$40 million a season, but hey, that's not our problem to figure out.

Bryce Harper: The Cubs' right fielder in 2019...or baseball's biggest troll/flirt?

Content producer Jon Graff contributed to this post.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: