Cubs

Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field

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Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field

MIAMI — The Cubs insisted moving Kris Bryant to left field shouldn’t be interpreted as a precursor move that sets the stage for a huge shakeup.

But feel free to imagine all the possibilities, the wide-ranging effects if Bryant does shift from third base, what it means in 2015 and beyond.

Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t go there before Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Miami Marlins. But it’s a good thing Bryant packed his outfield glove.

“I almost didn’t bring it this road trip,” Bryant said at Marlins Park. “I haven’t played there in awhile, but I’m excited for it.”

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro doesn't worry about the critics]

The Cubs could promote Javier Baez from Triple-A Iowa to strengthen their shaky infield defense and see if his Gary Sheffield bat speed still plays after trying to channel some of that aggressiveness and cut down on all those strikeouts.

The Cubs would also have to figure out what to do with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro and 21-year-old second baseman Addison Russell.

Does putting Bryant in left field somehow signal the Cubs are convinced elite prospect Kyle Schwarber can be the long-term answer at catcher?

How will all these moving pieces influence the front office’s thinking leading up to the July 31 trade deadline?

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The Cubs are 27-23 and will be looking to add, but Maddon downplayed the Bryant position switch, rattling off all the factors that went into the decision.

Jorge Soler could be placed on the disabled list with an ankle injury, and that would definitely change the outfield mix, probably creating an opportunity for Junior Lake in right. Maddon also didn’t like the matchup of Chris Coghlan against Marlins lefty Brad Hand and wanted to give utility guy Jonathan Herrera some playing time at third base.

“Honestly, it’s just based on today,” Maddon said. “I just chose to do this. Purely, that’s it.”

But the Cubs are always thinking about tomorrow and what’s coming next. Bryant has some outfield experience, playing center and right at the University of San Diego and getting exposed to left in spring training.

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant right here]

Coghlan’s hitting only .229, but he’s definitely contributing with seven homers, a .739 OPS and five outfield assists, which was tied for second in the National League. It’s also fair to wonder if Bryant would be a defensive upgrade in left field.

Bryant is a team guy who doesn’t seem to care how the dominoes might fall, willing to move wherever, and that’s another factor the Cubs will consider.

“I’m prepared for anything,” Bryant said. “I played all over the field growing up. I think that’s important to have that versatility.

“I’ve said it before: It’s a kid’s game. So (when) you’re a kid playing this game, you play all over the field. That’s what I do. I’m a ballplayer. I’m ready for anything.”

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

This obviously isn't where the Cubs or Kris Bryant wanted to be heading into the final week of the regular season.

Instead of talking about Bryant's level of play or the Cubs' second straight decisive win on the South Side, the 2016 NL MVP stood near his locker, entertaining more questions about his sore left shoulder while he watched Tiger Woods lock up a victory at the Tour Championship.

Bryant did not suit up for the Cubs Sunday, out with what his manager Joe Maddon called "fatigue." 

"His shoulder's just a little bit fatigued. Not hurting, just fatigued," Maddon said before the Cubs' 6-1 victory. "So you want to be proactive. You can wait 'til tomorrow [to give him a day off], but then if you wait 'til tomorrow and something were to happen today, I'd feel really badly about that. 

"So just talking to him, listening to him and his body, we're gonna give him today off."

Maddon later described Bryant's shoulder "fatigue" as a lack of strength given the superstar has missed essentially two months of action due to the injury.

Maddon acknowledged the Cubs may play things safe with Bryant and keep him out of the lineup Monday, too, but would leave that up to the player.

Bryant insisted he will be in the lineup, telling the group of reporters several times that he already told Maddon he would be ready to go for the first ame of the homestand Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The 26-year-old admitted he just needed a breather Sunday after appearing in every game since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1.

"I'm still kinda in the early stages — I've had 60-something at-bats, which is like a spring training load, I think," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling something — I was just tired from playing."

He said he and the Cubs are just trying to exercise caution to ensure his left shoulder doesn't get any worse with postseason baseball a week away.

"I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great," Bryant said. "I just gotta stay on top of my shoulder program and stuff like that, which we're doing, so that's good."

Bryant said he hit in the cage and went through a normal pregame routine Sunday, but instead of trying to catch up to big league pitchers throwing in the mid 90s, he got to sit back and let his shoulder rest.

The only possible concern there may be more at play with Bryant's shoulder is the timing of Sunday's day off.

Maddon said he was going to be cautious with Bryant when he first got off the DL and make sure he got enough rest, but then Bryant played every inning but two in his first six games back, only receiving a day off on Sept. 7 because rain washed away the game at Nationals Park.

Of the Cubs' 13 games since the other rainout in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9, Bryant started and played the entire contest in 12 of those games (he came in in the seventh inning in the other).

Bryant has had to utilize that left shoudler quite a bit since beginning his rehab four weeks ago, but he also received a day of rest just two days ago, when the Cubs had their only off-day of the month. 

If Bryant is back in the lineup on Monday, then this is all a moot point. And at the moment, there's no need to think the sky is falling and the Cubs will be without Bryant at all moving forward.

In fact, exercising caution is the right move given the potential danger that any one swing could bring the pain back in that left shoulder.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 2.5-game lead in the division and will maintain that gap into the final week of the regular season. There's no point in pushing Bryant to exhaustion or risking injury at the moment.

But if and when he does return, what type of force will he be in the Cubs lineup?

Since returning, Bryant is slashing .275/.346/.406 (.752 OPS) with 1 homer, 6 doubles and 5 RBI in 69 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 27 times (including a pair of 4-whiff games) against only 6 walks.

A healthy and successful Bryant is vital to the Cubs' World Series hopes next month and it will be interesting to see how much his shoulder becomes a talking point around this team over the final seven games of the regular season.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The timely emergence of the Kyles and a low level of concern about Kris (Bryant)

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The timely emergence of the Kyles and a low level of concern about Kris (Bryant)

The Cubs reduced their magic number to five Sunday behind another stellar outing from Kyle Hendricks and a second straight game of encouraging offense from Kyle Schwarber. The emergence of the Kyles at the most critical point in the season should come as no surprise for two guys who have built their reputations as big-game performers, but what they’re doing right now is huge entering the final week of the season.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant’s balky left shoulder is a talking point yet again. Is there any level of concern regarding the health of the Cubs superstar with October right around the corner? Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: