Scott Boras

Why COVID-19 crisis might create opportunity for Cubs to re-sign Kris Bryant

Why COVID-19 crisis might create opportunity for Cubs to re-sign Kris Bryant

His agent said the economics of the game over the next year or two won’t make any difference.

But Cubs star Kris Bryant said everything else that has changed in the world — and his own life — has caused him to re-examine the way he looks at his relationship with the Cubs and possibly even his stance on any extension talks that might arise before he’s eligible for free agency after next season.

“I feel like I’m more calm — although I do appear calm always,” he said Monday during a Zoom call with reporters. “but just things that really mattered to me before don’t matter to me as much.

“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 want you and care for you, and I’ve certainly felt that being a Chicago Cub.”

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Bryant, who said he considered opting out of playing this season in part because of the COVID-19 risk in relation to having a newborn son at home, emphasized that the idea of an extension with the Cubs is the last thing on his mind during such a high-anxiety moment in society in general and within what players and organizations are trying to make happen in an abbreviated 2020 season during a pandemic.

“I’m happy where I’m at; I love this organization, and I love everybody who’s part of it,” the 2016 MVP said. “I’m up for hearing what they have to say.

“But there’s a lot more other worries in my life and the world right now. So, I feel like it’s a little insensitive to be talking about big dollars and stuff like that when people are losing their job and their life. I’ve never been the type to be super selfish and want the attention on me to sign a contract or whatever. I think there’s bigger problems right now.”

Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, said in May the lengthy shutdown of professional sports and lingering economic impact would make little or no difference in markets for the top players, such as Bryant.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

“For the players who are the great players — because there’s always only a few great players — I don’t think it’s going to have anywhere near the impact,” Boras said, “because those great players are somebody you would sign for 10 years, and you can defer the cost.

"You just backload the contracts. You can do things with long-term contracts; you could wait for better times but still get the player for today.

“By the way, if I don’t sign that player, and I wait to sign that same star player when I do have the money in 2023, he’s going to cost me more.”

Bryant’s perspective adjustment since fatherhood and experiences during the pandemic may not make a difference on his chances to remain with the Cubs long-term, even if he shows a more willing approach to consider less than top dollar.

The Cubs’ payroll already was stretched to baseball’s luxury-tax threshold, with the front office re-evaluating its one-time championship core and how it might retool the roster for its next competitive window.

Pandemic economics wouldn’t seem to add any flexibility to that process or payroll math.

But the thoughts Bryant expressed Monday might at least be worthy of discussion over the winter, depending where the country and the sport is with the coronavirus crisis by then — if not the first actual talks on a long-term contract by the sides in three years.

Assuming he’s not traded by this year’s Aug. 31 deadline?

“I would like it not to be a concern,” Bryant said. “I’d like to think I wouldn’t be shipped out in the middle of a pandemic.”

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Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

The rhetoric sounds harsh. The sides aren’t close. And the chances look bleak for baseball owners and players to reach an agreement to play baseball as the week closed without a counterproposal from the union since Tuesday’s "extremely disappointing" ownership proposal.

If this past week was the most important week for Major League Baseball in 25 years, as some said, what does that make the coming week as MLB tries to salvage a season during a pandemic with an early July start?

The edge of the abyss, maybe?

But as dire as the situation looked based on the massive gap left to close between the sides’ negotiating positions as of Friday, at least a few indications at week’s end pointed to reasons for optimism a season can be played.

RELATED: What a 2020 Cubs season might look like if MLB, union reach agreement

First, too much is at stake on both sides to let the season be scuttled over financial haggling, perhaps especially for the owners, who have at least hundreds of millions of dollars at stake short-term and billions long-term if an already shaky competitor for America’s entertainment attention goes dark for a full season.

Second, deadlines have a way of turning stalemates into serious dialogue.

MLB has internally discussed three weeks of “spring training” before starting a three-month season — up to four weeks for pitchers — and that makes a June 10 target date for assembling players especially important (3 1/2 weeks before July 4).

And while nobody on either side is willing to risk suggesting a hard deadline for an agreement with so much at stake, Monday has long been considered a soft deadline, and the planned ramp-up time makes every day beyond that a faster-ticking clock toward potentially catastrophic damage to the sport.

While the union is more amenable to pushing back the start of a season and playing longer if necessary, starting later than early July gets increasingly risky from the MLB standpoint — whose main financial incentive for playing a season without fans is the nearly $1 billion of national TV money to recoup, most of it for the postseason.

Every additional week the start is pushed back increases the risk of a coronavirus outbreak within the game (or a second wave nationwide in the fall) that abruptly ends the season — and shortening to less than half its normal size makes it almost impossible to justify calling it a legitimate season.

But even beyond the logical reasons surrounding timelines and motivation, maybe the rhetoric isn’t even as bad as it sounded at times last week as negotiating positions, details and even internal memos were leaked.

Even Scott Boras, the player agent who in a private email to clients used the Cubs as an example of teams financially stronger than they admit when talking about losses, emphasized Friday he was not criticizing the Cubs in the email that apparently was leaked by a player.

“They did a smart thing. I’m not saying they did anything wrong,” he said in a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “The truth is we want organizations like the Cubs to run their businesses effectively and efficiently as they are doing, and certainly their choice of investing their revenues rather than paying off the debt of purchase is their choice, and I’m sure it’s a good choice.

“But those choices do not reflect the profitability of the team and the value of the players to the club who support the dramatic revenue that they’re making from the players’ performances.”

RELATED: How the Cubs became unwilling symbols in union's fight against MLB owners

Boras certainly has his share of critics in the industry. Even a player, Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, strangely targeted him this week, tweeting at him to “keep your damn personal agenda out of union business.”

But Boras, who has no direct involvement in negotiations, according to multiple sources, not only is right in this case, his agenda aligns with the union’s.

Maybe the players will have a compromise to offer in the coming week, beyond the prorated salaries already negotiated in March. But the economic future of the game and ability to sustain what has been a golden financial age for owners is in their owns hands right now.

It starts with the critical second step of staging a 2020 season. The first step? Back off the cries of billionaire poverty during an economic crisis that has crushed American workers and run the business with the same level of responsibility during a time of losses as the level of aggressive self-investment demonstrated during times of record revenues.

If nothing else, more transparency might be a good starting point for a week that has a real possibility of altering the course of the baseball in this country for a generation.

“The general principle of negotiating is really about good faith,” Boras said. “But when they open the door of the car for you and they know there’s no gas in the tank, you understand the invitation is pyrrhic.”

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For Major League Baseball, there’s too much at stake not to play

For Major League Baseball, there’s too much at stake not to play

In the middle of a global pandemic, Major League Baseball has a big opportunity. The owners know it. The players know it.

It might even be uncomfortable to talk about in the midst of so much suffering, but the opportunity is there.

A chance to reinvigorate the game.

Much of the last decade has been full of tales of baseball’s decline. Stories of declining attendance and declining television ratings are common. Some of the fears are embellished as revenues and team values have continued to increase, but there should be concern about the aging audience of baseball. According to data released in 2017, the average age of a baseball viewer is 57, up from 52 in 2006. And that 2017 study was three years ago. That same data showed only seven percent of baseball’s audience is below the age of 18.

There’s no question that as the world moves faster, attention spans decrease. Baseball – a slower paced game – has been impacted by this.

But here we are. In a quarantine. The world has crawled to a halt. People have nowhere to go. And almost any sports fan would be willing to watch a Major League Baseball game right now.

“What would a league pay to have a fanbase where the government is asking them to remain home and isolate?,” baseball agent Scott Boras said on NBC Sports Chicago Thursday. “And (playing MLB games) promotes what many of the political leaders want, which is isolation by giving them something to watch at home that’s fresh and new.”

While Major League Baseball has reduced mound visits and pitching changes to speed up the game, the reality is that the sport just needs to be more entertaining. There needs to be more reasons to watch.

Well, right now, that problem is pretty much solved. If you’re sick of Netflix and starving for sports, you have every reason to watch baseball. Heck, 173,000 people in the United States watched the Korean Baseball Organization opener in the middle of the night.

“This is a way to bring a lot more new eyes to our game,” Boras said. “The ratings for UFC and for ("The Last Dance") and for the NFL Draft all illustrate a dramatic increase and need for fresh content.”

The NFL Draft posted its best ratings ever, with more than 15 million people tuning in for the first round. The first six episodes of “The Last Dance” averaged 5.8 million viewers, according to Sports Business Daily. And while the following chart shows that people are desperate enough to even consume virtual NASCAR iRacing and reruns of golf, horse racing and figure skating, the top 10 most-viewed sports telecasts since March 16 are all brand new shows, not reruns.

“While something is very, very difficult for our country and for everyone at this particular moment for baseball, there is a bright side to the idea that you’re going to have massive attention paid to fresh programming,” Boras said.

There’s no guarantee that baseball will be alone in attempting to return in July. MLB could be competing with the NBA for instance, but it’s pretty much a certainty that more consumers will be at home in the summer looking for content to consume than they usually are.

And there’s a good chance baseball is going to have a more exciting product to offer. The downside of a long, 162-game season is that the product is diluted with the games meaning less. If baseball returns in 2020, it’s going to be a sprint, not a marathon. If only 82 games are played, each game will carry more weight and the playoff races will start almost immediately. Baseball will have a captivated audience and a captivating product.

That’s why, if the coronavirus allows, I believe the players and owners will eventually come to an agreement and play. There’s too much at stake. While some players might be able to forfeit an entire year’s worth of salary, as Rays pitcher Blake Snell suggested Wednesday, the great majority of the league cannot. And even commissioner Rob Manfred admitted on CNN Thursday night that the owners would lose about $4 billion collectively if games are not played in 2020. So no matter how much the two sides haggle over economics, they both lose more money by not playing.

Perhaps that is why health has dominated the discussion so far this week. The virus will ultimately determine how many games get played this summer. Players getting sick and perhaps even dying would be the ultimate price to pay. 

But if there is enough testing and players can stay safe, the games will likely get played. There’s too much to lose otherwise.

 

 

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