So much for gloom-and-doom financial forecasts of “biblical” proportions.
The Dodgers' 12-year, $365 million extension with outfielder Mookie Betts that surpassed Mike Trout’s 2019 record deal sent shock waves across the country’s major professional sports league that appeared — and claimed — to be hit the hardest economically by the coronavirus pandemic.
Whether the rest of baseball’s owners and executives behave as bullish on the game’s economic future in the coming months as the Dodgers, the Betts deal at least sent a loud and clear message to other big-name players approaching free agency, and their agents.
In the case of Scott Boras, the agent for Cubs star Kris Bryant, news of the deal only underscored a point he made during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago more than two months ago — that he didn’t expect the short-term economic distress caused by the pandemic to impact Bryant’s market.
“Great players are a commodity,” Scott Boras said Wednesday. “Few belong in the rare group, and when they are available it’s always good business to acquire their services.”
The Cubs haven’t engaged in extension talks with Bryant for three years. And when the team last winter won a grievance he filed over 2015 service-time manipulation, it certainly didn’t stimulate dialogue in that direction.
But first-time fatherhood and the sobering realities of the moment have made Bryant rethink the way he looks at his future with the Cubs, he said a few weeks ago as he arrived at summer training camp.
“Things that really mattered to me before don’t matter to me as much,” he said at the time. “You value people in your life that bring value to you, and certainly this organization has brought value to me in my life, and hopefully I’ve returned the favor. You want to be around people that care for you, and I’ve certainly felt that being a Chicago Cub.”
Bryant has always said he’s willing to listen if the Cubs want to re-engage in talks, and he reiterated that this month — though he said he didn’t feel comfortable talking in the midst of everything else going on in the world.
Meanwhile, the Cubs were in talks with shortstop Javy Báez — the 2018 NL MVP runner-up — on a possible long-term deal in March when sports, and the talks, were shut down.
How the Betts deal influences the Cubs’ next step with either player is unclear with the 60-game season about to open Friday.
The Cubs didn’t immediately respond to questions on the subject Wednesday.
When asked about economics of the game and player markets a few days after Bryant’s comments, team president Theo Epstein said, “Right now it’s hard enough to predict what tomorrow or next week will look like, or the next five years. That’s just the reality of the world we live in.”
Bryant, who is eligible for free agency after next season, has a five-year start to his career that includes a Rookie of the Year award, MVP, three All-Star appearances and a starring role in winning the most elusive American sports championship in history in 2016.
By at least one set of stats, he also has the best five-year offensive start of any third baseman in history (at least 55 percent of games at third): the only one with at least a .280 batting average, .900 OPS and 135 homers over that stretch.
In comparing his client to other high-profile players, Boras has referred to Bryant as “Island Boy” for his unique combination of skills and as the “Elmer’s Glue” of the Cubs for his ability to hit anywhere in the order and to defensively handle third base, first base and every outfield spot.
Cubs manager David Ross has said he’s just glad to still have him in the lineup in his first year as a manager, especially after Bryant embraced taking over the leadoff spot this season to help solve an Achilles heel of the Cubs’ lineup in recent years.
Boras said Wednesday that Betts’ extension only makes his point from May that such “known commodities” are more immune to even the potentially extreme market volatility that might impact MLB into next year.
“Guys like Kris are young; they’re very known commodities,” he said. “He’s an established guy, a very proven player. And there aren’t many players like him.
“Just plays so many positions; he’s a power hitter; .900-OPS players are hard to find. And you always have the [added] benefit of less wear and tear [from a shortened season] going forward.”
Where that leaves the Cubs in the wake of the Betts news with Bryant, Báez or anyone else on a roster of core All-Stars nearing free agency in the next two years is anything but clear in the murky economic times.
“Honestly, I appreciate Kris’ comments,” Epstein said a couple of weeks ago. “I know he loves being here, and he knows that we love having him as part of the organization.
“But we’re at a critical juncture [at which] the currency of the game truly is health and safety,” he added. “And soon we’ll incorporate wins and losses as a secondary consideration and secondary form of currency. But dollars and cents — to delve too deeply into that and discuss contractual situations, it gets to a point where if you talk too much about it, it becomes inappropriate, given the realities of everything going on in the world and where our focus truly is right now.
“There will be a time to discuss those things later, but I personally don’t feel comfortable talking about that right now.”