Cubs

How the Cubs could pair Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant in 2019

How the Cubs could pair Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant in 2019

Imagine Bryce Harper smashing balls onto Sheffield Ave. and battling the tough sun in right field in afternoon games at Wrigley Field.

The 24-year-old superstar will hit free agency in a year and a half (after the 2018 season) and the bidding frenzy will be unlike anything we've ever seen before. 

So will the Cubs be in on that bidding war for Harper?

Longtime baseball writer Peter Gammons is in Chicago this weekend as part of Theo Epstein's Hot Stove Cool Music festival and Gammons hopped on 670 The Score to discuss the possibility of Harper reuniting with fellow Vegas product Kris Bryant on the North Side.

"I have people tell me that Bryce Harper really would prefer to play for the Cubs," Gammons said on the Mully and Hanley Show Friday. "Somehow, I don't think that it's gonna be affordable to see Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant on the same team. 

"It's a great idea; I'd love to see it, 'cause I respect them both so much personally and professionally. But I don't think it's ever gonna happen."

Gammons has a point. Harper is still more than a year away from free agency and there have already been reports that he and agent Scott Boras are seeking a $400 million deal. 

The New York Yankees don't have many long-term, big-money contracts left, so they'll be flush with cash for the winter of 2018-19 when maybe the best free agent class ever hits the market. And anytime the Yankees are in the mix, the price will go through the roof.

Keep in mind, too, Harper and his camp have a clear advantage to creating a link with the Cubs given that association alone will drive the price up expontentially.

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So how could the Cubs reasonably afford Harper in 2019?

It won't be easy, that's for sure. 

The Cubs currently have $71.786 million committed in 2019 to Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop's buy-out.

2019 will be Bryant's second season in arbitration and don't expect him to sign a team-friendly deal like Rizzo's given Boras is also Bryant's agent and almost always lets his players hit free agency to drive up the price on the open market.

In 2019, the Cubs will also be done with rookie contracts on a host of other guys, dealing out arbitration to Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez. (Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Carl Edwards Jr. will still be on rookie deals in 2019.)

Arbitration/rookie deals for all those guys will bring the Cubs past $100 million for 2019 — a lot of money committed to only 12 players (assuming all the guys listed so far remain a part of the picture).

That also only takes care of three pitchers, leaving nine to 10 spots on the pitching staff to allocate money to. It's worth noting Lester will be 35 in 2019.

The Cubs will need to pour a ton of resources into the pitching staff this offseason and beyond.

But then again, if the Cubs can win another World Series this year or next, it would presumably leave them entering the 2019 free agency class in a great spot financially.

By then, Wrigley Field — and the surrounding area — could also be completely finished with all the renovations, making it the premier place to play in all of baseball and certainly an attraction for free agents.

Just dreaming on it for a second: Bryant-Harper-Rizzo would be an absolutely ridiculous heart of the order that would certainly rival the Hall of Fame trio of Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo in Cubs lore.

And of course, it will be awfully difficult to find a way to retain Bryant's services once he hits free agency following the 2021 season with Harper already on the payroll, but that's another problem for another time.

As they work to get healthy, Cubs unsure if Drew Smyly will be an option down the stretch

As they work to get healthy, Cubs unsure if Drew Smyly will be an option down the stretch

While the focus surrounding the Cubs' disabled list has centered on the trio of stars (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow), Drew Smyly continues to fly in under the radar.

You can't blame Cubs fans for forgetting about him given he's never thrown a pitch for the team after signing a two-year, $10 million deal over the winter.

As Smyly continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, his status for 2018 is becoming more and more of a question mark. What once appeared a strong possibility for a late-season return has now delved into one big #ShrugEmoji.

Last month, Smyly was throwing simulated games against Cubs hitters and hoped to go on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues by Aug. 1. It's now Aug. 16 and he has yet to begin that rehab stint.

Joe Maddon said Wednesday things are still status quo on the 29-year-old left-handed pitcher. The issue with Smyly isn't pain in that surgically-repaired elbow, he explained, but more on his body recovering at a slower rate than he would like.

"It's hard to put into words — I'm healthy, I'm throwing, it's just like the recovery standpoint, the bounce-back from the next day/the next couple days is not where I really want it to be," Smyly said. "So that's the hardest part — that's like the final hurdle. Just being able to pitch and then being like, 'OK, I'm good to pitch in a couple days as a reliever or five [days as a starter].' 

"It's just not really responding the way I want it to. It's completely normal. It's just part of the of the rehab process — shortening the window. When I'm on the mound and well-rested, I feel great and I walk off it excited where I'm at and ready for the next step. I kinda wake up the next day and the soreness just lingers."

Recovery from Tommy John is never linear; little things are different for each guy and each process.

That's why the Cubs backloaded Smyly's contract. They never went into 2018 planning on penciling him into the rotation or bullpen in September.

But up until a couple weeks ago, it looked very possible that Smyly could be a wild card for the Cubs pitching staff.

"I don't know if he's gonna be well enough to do that," Maddon said. "I know Drew really well and I know how good he is. It's enticing. You'd love to see it happen, but let's just get him well first."

Maddon managed Smyly with the Tampa Bay Rays in the second half of the 2014 and current Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey worked with the southpaw for the 2015-16 seasons, as well.

Smyly has extensive experience as both a reliever (71 appearances) and starter (85 starts) over his five-year MLB career. He boasts a 3.74 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.7 K/9, but hasn't thrown a pitch in a meaningful game since Sept. 26, 2016 (almost six weeks before the Cubs won the World Series).

"I'm so eager to get out there," Smyly said. "This is the hardest part for me, because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I'm on the mound, I feel great and I'm healthy and it's an exciting feeling.

"And then you kinda wake up the next day and you're like, 'Um, I'm still sore from it.' And so it's just been maintaining that hope and still not rushing it and taking it slow. When I signed with the Cubs, the goal was always 2019, but obviously I want to play. They know I want to play, just trying to push through."

Smyly feels like he's close and has helped work through his frustrations by talking with fellow teammates and friends — like Darvish and Tyler Chatwood — who have gone through the Tommy John process.

Once his body starts responding and recovering the way he would like the final hurdle for Smyly would be to pitch with maximum effort in a game environment. Sim games and bullpens are great, but there's no way to actually simulate the adrenaline and speed of an actual game. For now, he's still working with the training staff in Chicago.

The postseason is still more than six weeks away and the Cubs have so many other questions to answer on their roster outside of Smyly. 

But for a team that could use some more quality left-handed depth in the bullpen, it's hard to look at Smyly inches away from a return and not wonder — "what if?"

"I'm just champing at the bit to get out there," he said. "But it's excitement, too, because we go out there and we expect to win every day and that's a fun feeling. In the dugout, the energy in the ballpark, the atmosphere here, the fans every day — I get goosebumps just sitting in the dugout watching the team play.

"I'm anxious for that feeling myself to be on the mound. It'll come in good time. I'm very hopeful that it'll be this year, still, but if it's not, then it'll be next year. ... Counting down the days until I'm out there, man."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

For the first time in almost two weeks, the Cubs offense started to look more like the team we know they can be in Wednesday afternoon's victory over the Brewers. But when will the starting rotation follow? Kyle Hendricks pitched better than his stat line once again, but it's getting late in the season to continue to use that rationale for any Cubs starter.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs-Brewers series and Kelly sits down with David Bote for a 1-on-1 chat about his whirlwind week. Leila Rahimi also catches up with MLB Network's Dan Plesac to get his thoughts on Javy Báez's place in the NL MVP race, how the Central division is shaping up and X-factors for the Cubs and Brewers down the stretch.

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