Better than advertised: How Kris Bryant transformed the Cubs franchise

Better than advertised: How Kris Bryant transformed the Cubs franchise

The long con goes like this: Tell the fans you’re going to build this the right way, but never put a timeline on it. Talk vaguely about the future while sweet-talking the prospect gurus and spinning the local media. Promise the money will be there for the right free agents, but only when the team is finally ready to win.

If not, keep cashing those TV checks, collecting shared revenues from Major League Baseball, sell as many tickets and as much beer as you can and watch the franchise value skyrocket.

Other teams can try to tank and copy The Cubs Way. But it took patience from the Ricketts family’s ownership group and a massive payroll infusion. Theo Epstein’s baseball-operations department had the built-in credibility from their World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox to sell it – and also needed the scouting acumen and poker faces to execute a series of shrewd trades. Good luck finding a better manager than Joe Maddon, who still delegates so many of the day-to-day responsibilities to a strong coaching staff.

And no one else can have Kris Bryant until after the 2021 season.

Bryant transformed this franchise, helping the Cubs win 200 games combined across the last two years, following up his National League Rookie of the Year campaign with something close to a unanimous MVP season.

Even that required the Houston Astros giving the Cubs an assist, passing on the University of San Diego slugger with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft and instead taking a different Scott Boras client (Stanford University pitcher Mark Appel).

Even then rookies are supposed to start hot, get exposed by the BATS video system, maybe go back to the minors to work through issues and then become distracted off the field, especially in a city like Chicago that caters to athletes.

When 40,000 fans jam into Wrigley Field on Friday night – and a national TV audience tunes in for Game 1 of this playoff run against the San Francisco Giants – they will be watching a 24-year-old superstar who follows his own script.

“A lot of people in the industry think that you’ll just get better because you’re younger,” outfielder Chris Coghlan said. “As you get older, you get better – it doesn’t work like that.

“There’s no guarantee just because you’re young, you’re going to keep getting better. That’s not true. You have to be able to adapt and adjust and have the aptitude. Really, the greatest quality is self-awareness to really analyze yourself and go: ‘OK, where can I get better? Where do I need to make an adjustment?’ And then make the right one.

“Even if you (realize you) need to make an adjustment, it doesn’t mean you’re going to make the right adjustment. You can go down a whole path of doing something that actually made you worse.

“For ‘KB’ to do that in such a short span – and put up the monster numbers that he has – is unbelievable.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Coghlan speaks as someone who became a Rookie of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2009, a non-tendered player four years later and a Triple-A Iowa outfielder on Opening Day 2014.

Assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske became the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 2002 with a 24-homer, 84-RBI season, but a hand injury led to 12 homers and an 80-point OPS drop the next year with the Toronto Blue Jays, the beginning of a 12-year career that saw him win World Series rings with the Red Sox and New York Yankees.

“Everyone talks about the sophomore slump,” Hinske said. “Well, it’s hard when you’re a Rookie of the Year (and) you get a lot of media attention. I broke my hamate bone, so I struggled with my swing and didn’t live up to the first year. It’s just about being consistent.”

That’s Bryant, who’s been covered nonstop since draft day, in an industry obsessed with prospects, and at a time when his minor-league stats propped up a big-market franchise and kept Cubs fans interested on social media.

“Kris trusts his swing,” Hinske said. “It just comes with experience, honestly. When you first get in the game, your eyes are wide open. You’re like: ‘OK, now I’m good enough to be here.’ (You start) having success and you get hungry. You’re like: ‘Man, I can do this.’

“He’s becoming more professional. He knows what he needs to do to succeed every day. He puts himself in a good position to drive the baseball at all times. He knows there’s going to be ups and downs, but he does a really good job at not getting excited about anything, whether he’s doing well or doing bad.”

Bryant is a two-time All-Star third baseman who can shift defensively all over the infield and play any spot in the outfield – and will still be driven to win a Gold Glove. Finishing with 99 RBI last season bothered Bryant enough – even if that number could have been written off as service-time manipulation – that he responded with a 39-homer, 102-RBI MVP statement.

Whether or not Cubs fans will finally see their team win the World Series this year, they’ve actually seen a Cubs prospect who’s even better than advertised – and just getting started.

“For me, it’s never going to be good enough,” Bryant said. “I’m so stubborn. I’m so hard on myself. There’s always going to be ways for me to look at my game and say: ‘I can do this better.’”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?


Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

This has been the offseason of Kris Bryant rumors and with his grievance still unresolved Cubs fans can only speculate what will happen to the MVP. Is Kris Bryant trying to change the system like Curt Flood did? Host David Kaplan is joined by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers to discuss Bryant's future as a Cub, and the lackluster offseason the Cubs have had.

(1:50) - Why the Cubs have not made any moves so far

(3:32) - Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

(6:26) - Cubs need upgrades, specifically in the bullpen

(9:10) - Will the Cubs make a big move before the season starts?

(11:30) - Does Javy Baez get the big extension?

(14:45) - Will the Cubs get to 86 wins this year?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report


Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are reportedly close to a deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions.

Souza had a career year with the Rays in 2017, slashing .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+. Those figures were career-bests for Souza, minus his batting average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than the MLB average (23).

The signing of Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

Assuming he stays healthy, Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. He’ll add power to the middle of the order and add a proven bat to an outfield with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another bat in case those two slump again.