Cubs

Cubs: Kris Bryant flashes star potential in win vs. Pirates

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Cubs: Kris Bryant flashes star potential in win vs. Pirates

PITTSBURGH – Kris Bryant doesn’t feel like he’s putting a target on his back. He already knows he’s good. He feels very comfortable in the spotlight.

Bryant brings some star power to the Cubs. You saw that again during Monday night’s 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. There was nothing scripted or focus-group-tested about his performance.

A clever new Red Bull commercial shows Bryant literally twiddling his thumbs in the dugout during his 12-day sentence in the minors. Adidas put up the “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee. Super-agent Scott Boras and the Major League Baseball Players Association made service time a huge national story in spring training.

The Cubs got their extra year of club control – and a new face of the franchise.

[MORE: Cubs calling up Addison Russell in another aggressive move]

“I definitely think it comes with the territory,” Bryant said. “But I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I try to go out there and do things the right way – on and off the field – and get better every day. I think these special things that come along with it are just icing on the cake. I really am focused on what I have to do here.

“If I go about things the right way, then I’ll earn that respect. And that’s all that I ever want.”

Image isn’t everything for Bryant, a baseball gym rat who knows how to keep a low profile in the clubhouse. He’s also a hard-to-miss, game-changing force.

Bryant broke this one wide open with two outs in the seventh inning, driving a ball that bounced off the base of PNC Park’s left-center-field fence. Bryant rounded second base and hustled to third as Jorge Soler scored easily – and Anthony Rizzo scored as the ball bounced away from catcher Francisco Cervelli.

Bryant took another wide turn at third and tried to run back to the base before sprinting to home plate. Cervelli couldn’t handle the throw and all of a sudden the scoreboard showed: Cubs 4, Pirates 1.

“Rizzo told me: ‘You just hit a Little League home run,’” Bryant said.

[ALSO: Bryant touches them all in wild play vs. Pirates]

Bryant also said he didn’t know about the adidas marketing stunt until Rizzo sent him a selfie in front of the billboard.

“Down on the Farm” shows Bryant in his rain boots, hanging out in a barn. He also does a Tiger Woods impression, repeatedly bouncing a baseball off his bat before crushing it.

Bulls star Joakim Noah offers some advice: “Chicago fans can be tough, Kris. Good luck with that.” Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, former Cubs third baseman Ron Cey and what appears to be the friendly staff at Wiener’s Circle – “Who the (bleep) is Kris Bryant?” – also make appearances.

It ends with Bryant petting a goat, about to board a bus headed for Chicago. Da Coach, Mike Ditka, looks into the camera and says: “Now’s your time. The wait is over.”

Bryant shot the Red Bull spot on April 14, or two days before he found out he would be getting called up to make his big-league debut at Wrigley Field. The timing coincidentally worked out because Triple-A Iowa’s game in New Orleans got rained out that day.

“It turned out great,” Bryant said. “I didn’t want to be like the center of attention. I think they did a good job of barely showing me, because I don’t want that attention, being the young guy here.”

A reporter responded: But it was all about you.

[RELATED: Watch Bryant's Red Bull ad on life before call-up]

“It was, but there was a lot of other guys in there,” Bryant said. “I think it was more so about the excitement of where the organization is headed. The whole city of Chicago is excited, and I was happy about that.”

Forget the Q rating, Bryant is already putting up numbers. He went 3-for-4 with a walk and also delivered a clutch two-out RBI single in the fifth inning. He’s put up a 1.150 OPS through his first four games in The Show.

Bryant apparently only looks rattled around animals.

“I’m not a farm boy – I’m a city boy,” Bryant said. “My emotions were very much on point. I had no clue what I was doing. The goat wanted to run around and it was kind of hard to keep it by my side. It was definitely pretty funny.”

No momentum yet on potential Cubs-Zobrist reunion

No momentum yet on potential Cubs-Zobrist reunion

SAN DIEGO — Theo Epstein's front office has a lot of difficult decisions to make this winter, but Ben Zobrist has yet to come up with his own tough answers.

The 2016 World Series MVP is currently a free agent after wrapping up his four-year deal with the Cubs. He played a major role on the team in September following a four-month absence to deal with a family matter. 

Zobrist, 38, said at the end of the season that he was unsure if he would call it quits after an impressive career or return for another season on the diamond. More than two months since he last put on a uniform, he still has not reached an answer:

If he does play another season, it would have to be in the right situation for his family. He's made enough money in his career and accomplished plenty — including hoisting a couple championship trophies — but he clearly still had the drive and desire to play, as he said in his September return.

The Cubs figure to be on the short list of teams that would make sense for Zobrist given the mutual familiarity, a home in Chicago and how the entire organization supported him as he stepped away from the team to address his personal life.

It would seem to fit from the Cubs' perspective as well, since they talked all season long about how they missed Zobrist's professional at-bats and his presence inside the clubhouse. 

But there is no traction on the reunion front at the moment.

"I haven't talked to him recently," Epstein said Monday. "I've talked to him since the season ended, but it was more just checking in on his family. As far as baseball, he hadn't made a decision at that point. He was gonna wait a while before deciding what to do. He left open the possibility, but that was it."

The Cubs have an avenue for playing time next season at second base and potentially in the outfield for Zobrist and they are currently searching for leadoff options. He proved he can still play at his advanced age by hitting .284/.388/.377 in September after months away from the game. He isn't an everyday guy anymore, but can still provide value as a role player.

If Zobrist decides to give it one more go, the price would have to be right for the financially-hamstrung Cubs, but a reunion would make a lot of sense for both sides.

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

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USA TODAY

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

Could we see a Willson Contreras-Joe Maddon reunion in Los Angeles?

According to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, the Angels are “heavily engaged in the catcher market,” and are having “active conversations with two teams” regarding a trade for a catcher.

Torres didn’t specifically mention Contreras, but he’s one of several Cubs who have been linked to trade rumors this offseason. The Cubs aren’t looking to enter another all-out rebuild, but they’re keeping the future of the organization in mind following a disappointing 84-win season.

The Cubs farm system has grown barren of impact talent. They’ve struggled to develop big-league starting pitching under team president Theo Epstein. Their payroll is projected to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second straight season, meaning they’d encounter a 30 percent luxury tax on their overages and see their draft position drop 10 spots, should they exceed the $208 million threshold by $40 million or more.

Trading Contreras — who’s projected to make $4.5 million via arbitration next season — won’t solve the financial problem. However, trading him could net the Cubs the type of blue-chip prospects they desperately need to replenish their farm system.

Contreras is also under team control through 2022, so there’s not a huge rush to deal the two-time All-Star. But if the Cubs sense he’s unlikely to sign a contract extension now or in the future, they must do their due diligence on him and see what they could acquire in a potential trade. The same is true for Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

The Angels have one top 100 prospect, (outfielder Jo Adell — No. 5 overall), according to MLB Pipeline, so what Los Angeles could offer the Cubs is questionable. Epstein and Co. won’t trade their backstop for the sake of doing so, especially if they deem any offers to be unsatisfactory.  

Contreras hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 home runs and 64 RBIs last season. He’d be a major addition for the Angels, whose catchers posted a combined .221/.293/.344 slash line with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs. The 27-year-old also has a special bond with former Cubs/current Angels manager Joe Maddon.

Contreras posted a heartfelt good-bye to Maddon on Instagram after the Cubs announced they weren’t retaining the manager for 2020. Contreras later commissioned a painting of he and Maddon as a gift for his former skipper.

Monday, Maddon said it’s “weird” to hear Bryant and Contreras mentioned in trade rumors, adding that he likes both players. 

The Angels aren't definitively linked to Contreras and Epstein recently advised to take rumors with a "mouthful of salt." But considering the Angels are reportedly seeking a catching upgrade, it won't be a surprise to see that change soon.