Cubs

Respect 90: Kris Bryant will lead Cubs by example

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Respect 90: Kris Bryant will lead Cubs by example

MILWAUKEE — Kris Bryant insisted the home-run drought didn’t weigh on him, but his actions spoke louder than his words.

That streak finally ended Saturday night at Miller Park, with Bryant going deep against Kyle Lohse during a 12-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cubs pretending to freeze him out in the dugout.  

But Bryant didn’t sulk or zone out or let his first 91 plate appearances in the majors negatively impact the rest of his game. His numbers before his first career home run: .422 on-base percentage; 4.37 pitches per plate appearance; 29 strikeouts in 73 at-bats; 17 walks, 14 RBI and 12 runs scored in 20 games.

[RELATED: WATCH: Cubs' Kris Bryant hits first career HR, returns to empty dugout]

That focus and maturity helps to explain why the Cubs drafted Bryant No. 2 overall in 2013, believing he would be able to handle all the big-market pressures, face-of-the-franchise responsibilities and off-the-field distractions.

“I can go the rest of the year without hitting a home run,” Bryant said. “As long as I’m doing that — running hard and driving in runs and helping the team win — that’s all I can control. And I’ll continue to do that.”

Bryant’s “Respect 90” hustle late Friday night still had manager Joe Maddon buzzing the day after the 6-foot-5 slugger ran hard on a groundball to shortstop with two outs in the ninth inning. A replay review rewarded Bryant with an infield single, giving the Cubs an insurance run they wound up needing in a 7-6 win over the Brewers.  

“That speaks volumes for the whole organization,” Maddon said. “Believe me, when it happened, I know (closer Hector Rondon is) coming in with a four-run lead, but I’m thinking to myself: Is that going to be the difference in the game tonight? Before the inning ever began. And it was.

[MORE CUBS: Kris Bryant hits first big-league homer in loss to Brewers]

“The other part that nobody even talked about — check out the replay where he hit the bag with his foot. If he doesn’t hit the front of the bag, he would have been out.

“Now, this is stuff you talk about the very first day when you run the bases. Get in there, run down the line, run through the bag, hit the front part of the bag, look over your right shoulder.

“You say that…I don’t know…at least a hundred times. At least. But do they all do it? No, because, eh, it’s not that big of a deal.

“I promise you: Run back the video on Derek Jeter running to first base…you see where his foot hits the bag almost 100 percent of the time. And that’s what KB did.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant jersey]

The best teams have its best players setting the example every day.

The Cubs have talked a lot about becoming a world-class organization while being a fifth-place team. For all the hype surrounding his arrival, Bryant is pretty quiet, relatively humble and very serious about his craft.

Bryant always said he wanted to let his game do the talking for him.

“There’s no greater banner or plug for the ‘Respect 90’ part of what we’re trying to get done here than what he just did right there,” Maddon said. “If all of our minor-leaguers watch that and (come) away with that takeaway, I will absolutely accept that. It was phenomenal.” 

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there.

“We’re not at all in that position but looking at the longer time horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long-term and a little bit less for the short-term, but that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

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Cubs acquire righty reliever Travis Lakins from Red Sox as bullpen stockpiling continues

Cubs acquire righty reliever Travis Lakins from Red Sox as bullpen stockpiling continues

The Cubs continued their stockpiling of relievers on Tuesday, acquiring right-hander Travis Lakins from the Red Sox. The North Siders will send a player to be named later or cash considerations to Boston in return.

Lakins is a former sixth-round pick by the Red Sox who made his big-league debut last season. The 25-year-old sported a 3.86 ERA in 16 appearances, three of which he started the game as an "opener." He pitched 23 1/3 innings in the big leagues season, striking out 18 while walking 10. He holds a 4.45 ERA in parts of five minor-league seasons.

Lakins' fastball ranks in the 70th percentile for spin rate, averaging 93.7 mph with his four-seamer last season with Boston. 

The Cubs have acquired a plethora of low-key relievers this winter, including Dan Winkler, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam and now Lakins. The club lost stalwart Steve Cishek to the White Sox and haven't been connected to the reliable Brandon Kintzler this offseason.  Pedro Strop is also a free agent, and the Cubs are reportedly interested in a reunion.

As of now, the only locks for the 2020 bullpen are closer Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck. Thus, the Cubs have been gathering as many relief options as possible with the hope some will emerge as viable relief candidates this season. At the least, they'll have plenty of depth in case any injuries occur or if any arms underperform.

"You realize to get through a season, it's not a matter of going up on a whiteboard and writing up your eight relievers," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said at Cubs Convention Saturday. "It's a matter of [needing] 15, 20, 25 good relievers over the course of the summer to really get through it.

"When you guys see a lot of these transactions of relievers, often times they're going to be coming off down years. For the most part, I bet you when we acquire a guy, you can look back and you can see a year in the not-too-distant past when they had a really good year.

"That's the kind of shot we have to take, and that's the kind of shot every team has to take on capturing that lightning in a bottle. Buying really high on relievers and signing them after they have a breakout year is really expensive and really difficult and doesn't have a great success rate. We try to find those guys that we can catch lightning in a bottle, and that's been a big part of our strategy."

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