Make no mistake: The Cubs did the right thing in sending Kris Bryant to AAA -- under the terms of the CBA. And that is a vital caveat.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 30, 2015
Wade Boggs played six seasons in the minors and made his MLB debut when he was older than Kris Bryant is now. Bryant will be OK.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) March 30, 2015
Cubs are basically trading 15 games of Kris Bryant in 2015 for 162 games of Kris Bryant in 2021. Dumb system, but they're using it smartly.— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) March 30, 2015
I'm reminded of something Curt Schilling said the other day during a broadcast of a Chicago Cubs spring training game. Ownership expects the players to give the team everything they have. But what is Cubs ownership and management doing in the case of Kris Bryant? Bryant is one of the best 25 players on the Cubs. The management of the Cubs is telling us he's not after optioning him to Triple-A, that he needs to start the season in the minors, after hitting 42 home runs in the minors last season, after destroying spring training pitching, after generating such a buzz that players on other teams already speak of him in impressive words. Theo Epstein, who stopped by the booth that game, is telling us Bryant needs to work on his defense, Bryant needs a little more seasoning in the minors and that he often kept good young players in the minors while he was general manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Schilling didn't buy it. He said it's a business decision.
Players are expected to give it their all. Cubs management, however, is not. It is telling its players that 2021 is more important than 2015. What kind of message is that sending? Heck, if the Cubs haven't won by 2021, odds are Epstein won't be running the club anyway.
Yes, the analytics and financials say this is the right decision. The impact of not having Bryant in the majors for a few weeks is minimal. Maybe it will mean the forfeit of an extra win for the Cubs. Maybe not. The calculations estimate that if Bryant played like the best rookie third baseman in history -- Dick Allen of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies -- he'd be worth 0.49 WAR for nine games, the estimated minimum number of games Bryant will have to miss for the Cubs to retain an extra year of his rights.
Of course, there is no such thing as half a win when you tally up the standings that count.
Baseball has more parity than ever. With two wild cards, it's easier to make the playoffs. More than ever, teams can dream of winning 88 games, sneak into the playoffs and then run the table. See the 2014 San Francisco Giants. Maybe one win won't make the difference for the 2015 Cubs. Maybe it will. The Seattle Mariners missed the playoffs by one win in 2014. The Texas Rangers lost a wild-card tiebreaker in 2013. The Los Angeles Dodgers missed the playoffs by two wins in 2012, the Atlanta Braves and Red Sox by one win in 2011, the Sam Diego Padres by a win in 2010. Every year, one win is pretty important to at least one team.
This is a triumph of numbers and reason. Mostly, that's a good thing. It's made baseball teams better and front offices smarter. But what about the entire picture? There's no way to measure things like clubhouse morale or spirit. But people -- and players -- do care about the environment they're asked to work and succeed in. Imagine your workplace in which management has something that will help everyone succeed better but won't implement it because it is worried about money six years down the road. How would that go over?
As my colleague, Christina Kahrl, put it, you're banking on the future while borrowing from the present. This ensures the Cubs will keep Bryant for 2021, and he should be enormously valuable for the Cubs that year; but maybe it makes it less likely he's with the Cubs in 2022, 2023, 2024 and beyond.
It's interesting from another standpoint. Front offices like the Cubs', Dodgers' or Oakland A's will sweat over not just the 25th man on the roster as much as the starting nine but the 37th and 38th man. They work countless hours trying to build the best team possible, to find every minute advantage possible; and yet, the Cubs have decided to delay their best product on the field, at least for a few weeks.
At their fabulous new spring training complex in Mesa, Ariona, the Cubs were selling $63 T-shirts.
But they've sold out their fans on this one. Kris Bryant should start the season in the majors, 2021 be damned.