Cubs’ Kris Bryant to leverage versatility as MLB free agent

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'Manifold' destiny: Boras maps free agent plan for Bryant originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LOS ANGELES — Scott Boras was ready for the subject before the question was asked.

Some say he’s been preparing for it for seven years.

Kris Bryant? Free agency?

“He’s a major-league manifold,” Boras said. “That’s what he is.”

A what?

“The manifold,” Boras said with a smile, spreading his fingers and wiggling his hand in different directions.

“He’s the major-league manifold. He can go anywhere.”

Boras, the longtime agent for the Cubs’ Bryant, has measured Bryant for this upcoming free agent class since the Cubs manipulated Bryant’s service time during his Rookie of the Year season in 2015 to assure this additional, 2021 season of club control.

And as that 2021 Cub’ season spiraled out of contention the last two weeks, the focus of the season has turned to where the franchise goes next — not to mention the Cubs’ free-agent core, including the team’s best homegrown player since Greg Maddux.

Where Bryant goes next is Coors Field for Tuesday’s All-Star game. And whether he’s in a playoff race with another team by the July 30 trade deadline or finishes out the string as a Cub with a qualifying offer in October, Bryant’s next long-term move won’t be made until he reaches free agency — whether the Cubs want to make a last-ditch attempt at an extension or not.

Boras made that much clear during a recent conversation with NBC Sports Chicago.

The agent also offered a glimpse of the pitch suitors will get in the fall when he presents the binder of analyses and comparisons on the uniquely versatile Bryant that will try to make the case the former MVP and four-time All-Star belongs at the top of this free agent class — ahead of, among others, shortstops Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa and teammates Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo.

“My job is never to find a comp. My job is to define the comp,” Boras said. “And there’s only one comp for Kris Bryant. …

“Kris Bryant.”

Almost half a season remains to make the final case for Bryant’s value for a free agent winter that could extend into the spring as it plays out against what’s certain to be contentious negotiations over what replaces a collective bargaining agreement that expires Dec. 1.

But Boras already sounds characteristically confident after his star client proved critics wrong about an injury-hampered, pandemic-shortened 2020 season with a bounce-back first half that landed him his second straight All-Star selection (there was no game in 2020).

Even in a market that includes an historically strong shortstop class, he calls Bryant “the highest-graded free agent by far” because of all that “manifold” versatility that becomes a value-added rarity for any team in the market for a middle-of-the-order bat.

Bryant, who made the All-Star team as a third baseman, has started at least 10 games at five different positions — all three outfield spots and both corner infield spots — to help the Cubs cover for a revolving door of injuries so far this season.

Even after cooling off in June since early talk of another MVP run, Bryant leads the Cubs with an .847 OPS.

Nobody else in baseball with as high an OPS has close to the versatility. Only four others have started 10 games at even two positions — and nobody at more than two positions. And only Jake Cronenworth of the Padres has started even once at three different positions with at least the level of offensive production at Bryant.

“Besides being [proficient at] every element of baseball, he’s proven in the postseason; he’s carried an MVP dynamic; he’s consistent,” Boras said, “but more than that he really helps you in the draft. Why?”

Because Bryant’s ability to play five positions well — on presumably a long-term contract — allows a team to draft purely for impact without regard for specific position needs or shortages in the farm system, Boras said.

“It also allows so much more flexibility in trades,” he said. “It allows you at the trade deadline so many options that other teams don’t have.

“It’s really a weapon. And it keeps you in contention a lot more often because you have the versatility to utilize him in so many places.”

Not long enough for the Cubs this season.

Consequently, they might get the first chance to test Boras’ trade deadline theory, at least from the other side of the equation, as the team selling that versatility.

That ability and willingness to play all those positions helped Bryant earn the 2016 MVP.

How much it might earn him in free agency this winter is anything but certain with labor storm clouds gathering, the Cubs’ season in the tank, a second half left to play and Bryant’s place of employment after July 30 up in the air — not to mention the hamstring tightness that sidelined him again Thursday for at least precautionary reasons after forcing him from Wednesday’s game.

Will the Mets with their new, aggressive owner — and a recent interest — go after Bryant? The Nationals? Somebody from the American League? Or somebody closer to Bryant's home in Las Vegas?

Depending on which industry source you talk to, the Cubs offered Bryant an extension after the MVP season worth more than $200 million; or more than $250 million; offered a contract length of eight years; or maybe more; or far less than all those numbers; or no actual offers were made.

Neither Boras nor Cubs officials will say. Bryant has strongly and repeatedly denied reports of a $200-million-plus offer.

And even if the Cubs wanted to try again, it might be too late — at least if they want to try before the end of the season.

They’ve had no such talks yet. And Boras said he’ll never try to tell a team what to do or shut the door if it wants to talk. But he did suggest they let the season play out without that distraction, he said.

“Because the old story is, before you can sit down and have dinner, someone has to serve the food to you,” he said. “And the food of Kris Bryant’s future is obviously going to come after the season. We just want to focus on playing.

“I’m not going to judge the seed when the flower doesn’t have six months to grow.”

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