Bryce Harper

Kris Bryant is pain-free and has no doubt he'll return to Cubs in 2018

Kris Bryant is pain-free and has no doubt he'll return to Cubs in 2018

Breathe easy, Cubs fans. Grab another cold drink, put your feet up and soak in the sun — there's good news on the Kris Bryant front.

Before a picture-perfect afternoon game against the Nationals at Wrigley Field Saturday, Bryant took some swings and ground balls and reported zero pain in his left shoulder.

"I should be [feeling better] — I've had some time off and really not doing too much," he said. "Just keeping my legs in shape, but yeah, I feel a lot better."

Bryant is only taking dry swings (with no baseball) and hitting a little off a batting tee, but it's a start.

"Nothing super crazy, but it's nice to be able to pick up a bat," he said. "Obviously still kinda going a little slow, but seems to be the smart thing to do."

The Cubs are making sure they won't rush Bryant back this time and will allow the left shoulder to be 100 percent before inserting the 2016 NL MVP back into the lineup.

The postseason is only about seven weeks away, but Bryant has no doubt he'll make it back in time to contribute this year.

"Yeah, absolutely. I feel confident [I'll be back]," he said. "It would be pretty silly if I wasn't, just in my mind. I'm totally confident that I'll be back."

Bryant injured the shoulder in late May on a slide and believes he aggravated it by taking too many swings to try to bust out of a slump. That led to a few weeks on the shelf, missing games from June 23 to July 10.

He came back for 10 games before again hurting his shoulder on a swing against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 23. He hasn't played since then and this weekend is the first time he's picked up a bat in almost three weeks.

There is no set plan for Bryant or timetable for when he will return and while he's anxious to get back, he acknowledges things are moving in the right direction.

And no pain in the shoulder is as good a sign as any at the moment.

"Obviously means what we're doing is working and the right thing," Bryant said. "Hopefully it makes me a better player, knowing that there's things that I need to do to maintain my body and hopefully it's making me stronger for it.

"As much as it stinks to be on the DL, I see it as a win for me."

Bryant is only 26, but he has realized that he needs to back off with his pregame and off-day routine, finding a way to limit the high-intensity swings until the game. 

He felt like he was taking too many "game-like swings" in the batting cage and during BP on the field, so moving forward in his career, he'll lighten that load.

Anthony Rizzo has come to the same conclusion over the last couple years as he's dealt with an episode of back issues at some point during the course of each season.

It's a lesson learned the hard way for Bryant.

"It was good for me to realize that," he said. "You can't keep going every day and just swinging and swinging and swinging because things might bark at you sometimes. And that's kinda what happened.

"It's good for me to see early on in my career that it's nice to change some things here and there so that you can play [longer]. I want to play until I'm 40."

Bryant hasn't made any major changes or adjustments to his swing, but through this process, he has understood the value of getting back to having a smooth follow-through to avoid the wear and tear on his shoulder.

After all, Bryce Harper calls Bryant "Silk" because of how smooth and fluid the Cubs superstar is on the field.

"Just be conscious of my workload and the violence of a finish rather than me being smooth and easy with it, especially in practice," Bryant said. "So that's kinda what our focus is."

A huge portion of Cubs fans surprisingly don't want Bryce Harper in Chicago

A huge portion of Cubs fans surprisingly don't want Bryce Harper in Chicago

Bryce Harper, Chicago Cub. It has a nice ring to it, but apparently not to most Cubs fans. An NBC Sports Chicago poll showed out of roughly 4,000 voters, 78% of people would prefer to see Harper sign with another team. 

The 2018 free agent is having a down year at the plate, only mustering a slashing line of .235/.379/.500 with 28 home runs, but he's also a 6-time All-Star and former MVP who turns 26 next season. Harper is entering his prime and despite the assumed asking price to be somewhere north of $200 million, every team in baseball would be crazy not to at least consider adding the former MVP. 

It would be difficult to fit Harper on the Cubs roster as it's currently constructed, players like Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, and resurgent Jason Heyward all see regular playing time in the outfield. Adding Harper likely means at least one of those players is moved this off-season, which shouldn't keep the Cubs from being potential suitors for Harper's talents. 

David Kaplan wrote about the Cubs needing to sign Harper this off-season, point out the marketing advantages the Cubs would gain - imagine a Bryzzo commercial featuring Bryce Harper! 

Adding Harper to the Cubs is, as Kaplan put it, a no-brainer from multiple angles. And if Cubs fans are against it now, they won't be when Harper is introduced at the next Cubs Convention, or when he, childhood BFF Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo hit back-to-back-to-back home runs. Of course, there will be multiple teams vying for Harper, but to think the Cubs wouldn't be a better ball club with Bryce Harper in tow is nonsense. 

Kaplan: Cubs need to find a way to sign Bryce Harper

Kaplan: Cubs need to find a way to sign Bryce Harper

With the Cubs emergence as a big spending, powerhouse franchise over the past four seasons thanks to the commitment of the Ricketts family ownership and the success of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer led front office, no player acquisition move seems to be outside the realm of possibility.

This new reality has fans dreaming about the Cubs signing free agent to be Bryce Harper this coming offseason. But would that be a smart move for the Cubs as an organization?

They still have to sign their own players such as Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Carl Edwards and others to long-term contracts, which will send their already record-level payroll soaring even further into uncharted territory. A look at the current payroll and my offseason projections have the Cubs currently at $188 million in 2018 salary with approximately $8-15 million coming off the books. That depends on club and player options, arbitration numbers and potential decisions to non-tender players, but does not include arbitration decisions on several players that could actually increase the payroll from 2018 before the Cubs make one offseason move to strengthen their major league team.

Adding a player the caliber of Bryce Harper is a no brainer from a talent standpoint. Would he make the Cubs better on the field? Absolutely. Would he make them even more appealing to potential advertisers and would he help increase TV ratings? No question about that.

However, to fit him in, the Cubs would have to move someone of substance off the roster to give him a position in their lineup. It will take a hard-to-fathom scenario where the Cubs could move their current right fielder Jason Heyward and his massive contract to open up space for Harper. Could they attempt to trade Albert Almora or Ian Happ and then plan on playing Heyward in centerfield to open up right field for Harper? Sure, but that does not give you any salary relief off of your massive payroll.

The Cubs will soon be announcing a new TV deal which should be worth in the billions of dollars and will make them a massive heavyweight in the sport. The checklist of business moves that Crane Kenney first presented to Tom Ricketts in 2009 when he and his family purchased the franchise from the Tribune Company is nearly complete and has been nothing short of a grand slam home run for the bottom line. That deal combined with some bold and creative moves by Epstein and his front office could create a path to seeing Bryce Harper in a Cubs uniform.

Would I sign Bryce Harper if I was the owner? Armed with a huge TV deal and seeing the success of all of the upgrades in an around Wrigley Field I would do all I could to add a charismatic young star to a very talented team that has a wide open window to win the World Series again. There will be a time when the Cubs will need to rebuild and the payroll will come back to earth but now is not that time.

I say get creative Theo and find a way to sign Bryce Harper. Cubs baseball would move to another level and the impact it would have on the bottom line just might pay for the contract itself.