Bryant addresses rumor-filled offseason

Third baseman talks trade speculation, service-time grievance and more

February 15th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- took guitar lessons over the offseason as a relaxing distraction from all the white noise surrounding him. The Cubs' star third baseman kept busy with doctors appointments with his wife, who is pregnant with their first child.

What Bryant did not do -- amidst all the trade rumors and coverage of his service-time grievance -- was scroll through social media. He deleted Twitter off his phone two years ago. Bryant did the same with Instagram last season. He tried to stay in his bubble, but that did not stop family and friends from bursting it now and again via text.

"I just really try my best to tune it out. It's hard. It's really hard," Bryant said. "But, obviously, I have friends. They send me screenshots of what you guys say and stuff like that. So, I've seen stuff second hand, but I really try to avoid it."

Bryant arrived to Cubs camp on Saturday morning, dropped some stuff off at his locker just inside the door and then walked down the hall to the team's interview room. For 35 minutes, the third baseman fielded questions without holding back. His answers were thoughtful and candid and covered a wide array of subjects.

Bryant also plans to sit down with members of the Cubs' front office at some point in the coming days to go over just where things stand between him and the team. All signs point to Bryant being in the Cubs' Opening Day lineup, but president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said earlier this week that he has given no guarantees to the third baseman in their conversations.

At least for Opening Day, Bryant would prefer some assurance that he is in the Cubs' plans.

"I would like one. I mean, I guess I would like to be in the loop a little bit," Bryant said. "Obviously, they don't have to keep me in the loop by any means, you know? But, I feel like I've earned a little respect here, in just how I go about my business and just who I am as a player and a person, too, to kind of sit down and have talks like that."

Given all the rumors, reports and speculation that consumed the Cubs' offseason, Bryant also wanted to set the record straight on a few topics.

• At no point did he turn down a contract extension offer from the Cubs that was north of $200 million.

• There are no hard feelings between him and the Cubs in the wake of the service-time grievance process and outcome.

• He does not want out of Chicago. In fact, he continues to express how much he loves the city, the Cubs organization, his teammates, the fans and he remains open to a long-term deal.

"These rumors and sources and people just saying things," Bryant said. "The only thing that matters is what comes from my mouth."

And that, right there, is what bothered Bryant the most about the past four months.

Bryant said he could shrug off the trade rumors, which have persisted into Spring Training and will continue up to the July 31 Deadline if the third baseman remains in the fold. That is part of the business side of things, especially for players who are approaching free agency. Bryant is one of Chicago's stars poised to come off the books after the 2021 season.

What got under Bryant's skin was a report that claimed he had "ill will" towards the club after an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Cubs in regards to the service-time grievance filed on his behalf by the MLB Players Association. The case stemmed from the timing of Bryant's promotion to the Majors in 2015, following an incredible spring showing in what turned into a National League Rookie of the Year-winning campaign.

Bryant, who would have become a free agent next offseason with a victory in the case, felt it was his duty and important to use his situation -- win or lose -- to help players in the future.

"We had a great case. Probably the best one ever," Bryant said. "I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on and to be like, 'I want to be the guy that fights for this, because I think that this is right.' ... It was very respectful from the get-go. And, like I said, I'm very thankful for the team to see it through. I saw it through. I'm thankful for the arbitrator. Everybody was very professional."

And now that it is all in the rearview mirror, Bryant plans on being a pro as he begins Spring Training with the only franchise he's known.

Bryant paused for nine seconds when asked if he felt the Cubs' approach to the offseason showed that they were trying to win in 2020. The team made minimal moves with the payroll projected to be north of the first luxury-tax threshold. But, then he expressed a strong faith in the players still in the room -- a core group that won the 2016 World Series.

Bryant said he is over his injury bugs from last year and is excited to play for new manager David Ross. And, Bryant is eager to just put on his Cubs uniform and get to work. He would love to keep doing that for the North Siders for many years to come, too.

"I've said ever since the very beginning, I'm always open to it," Bryant said. "Of course you want to be here, but I don't hold those cards."

As Bryant exited the press conference room, he delivered one last line that elicited laughter.

"Have fun," Bryant said. "I hope you guys get a lot of retweets."