Cubs vs. Nats: The friendly rivalry between Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper


Cubs vs. Nats: The friendly rivalry between Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper

PHOENIX – Kris Bryant doesn’t have any good stories about Bryce Harper flipping aluminum bats, or blowing kisses to parents in the stands, or getting thrown out of Little League games.

Or at least the Cubs third baseman didn’t want to share any with the reporters who swarmed his locker Sunday morning before a 4-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

But Bryant knows all about Harper after playing with and against the future Washington Nationals superstar while growing up in Las Vegas. On Memorial Day at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will be trying to slow down an unstoppable force.

“He knew he was good,” Bryant said. “That’s a good trait to have in this game. You got to go out there extremely confident – and he was confident. That helped him get to where he is today.

“Because he doesn’t care who is on the mound. He doesn’t care who the other team is. He’s always going to go out there and believe he’s better than the opponent. That’s something you need when you’re playing baseball.”

[MORE: Maddon thinks Schwarber could help Cubs this year]

At the age of 22, Harper is actually younger than Bryant and has already made two All-Star teams and hit four postseason home runs in nine playoffs games. Bryant is making a push to win the National League Rookie of the Year award Harper earned in 2012, putting up an .861 OPS with five homers and 29 RBI through his first 34 games in The Show.

But Harper is on a completely different level, leading the NL in homers (16) and RBI (41), outperforming all major-league hitters with a 1.198 OPS and doing it for a World Series favorite.

“The thing that stands out to me is just how good he was – and how much better he was than the competition,” Bryant said. “He was like 11 years old and he was throwing like 80 miles an hour off the mound. It was special to see that from a guy that young.

“He’s obviously younger than me, but just watching him play, I was amazed. And I knew that he would be doing what he’s doing at this level someday, too.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant jersey!]

Where Bryant decided to go to the University of San Diego – and methodically developed into the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft – Harper has been all about speed.

Harper made it onto the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Baseball’s Chosen One” in June 2009. He got his GED and went to a junior college before the Nationals selected him with the first pick in the 2010 draft.

“I wouldn’t say a rivalry,” Bryant said. “As a baseball player, you always want to be the best. And you look at the best and you want to be better than them. It was just a friendly competition – seeing what he’s doing, seeing what I’m doing and learning from each other.”

Harper – who’s also represented by super-agent Scott Boras – sent a message on his Twitter account while the Cubs did their service-time song-and-dance routine in spring training:


“I did see that,” Bryant said. “Thanks for the support, Bryce.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items


Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.