LAS VEGAS -- Kristopher Bryant made his way through Mandalay Bay on Wednesday afternoon, took an elevator to the upper tier of the Delano Hotel and swung by the Cubs' suite. The visit was planned, but it was more about the team checking in on Bryant's offseason than Bryant asking
LAS VEGAS -- Kristopher Bryant made his way through Mandalay Bay on Wednesday afternoon, took an elevator to the upper tier of the Delano Hotel and swung by the Cubs' suite. The visit was planned, but it was more about the team checking in on Bryant's offseason than Bryant asking about the team's roster plans.
One thing Bryant did not need to ask about was superstar free agent Bryce Harper. It is no secret that Bryant and Harper -- who both live in Las Vegas -- are close friends. If the Cubs' third baseman wants to know the latest on Harper's free-agency tour, he can just fire off a text or ask the next time they're taking in a Golden Knights hockey game.
"He's got a pretty direct source," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer quipped.
While Harper would immediately impact Chicago's offense, the club is not expected to be at the forefront of the pursuit of the free agent due to its current payroll restraints. If the Cubs can trade a hefty contract to free up funds, it would become a different story. As things currently stand, the club is focused on improving the lineup from within. Bryant plays a large role in that equation after a left shoulder injury sapped his slugging percentage last summer.
Beyond chatting with Bryant, the Cubs' brass also continued dialogue with agents and rival teams about free-agent and trade concepts. Hoyer noted, however, that the team was unlikely to leave Las Vegas with any transactions across the finish line.
Standing atop a large black equipment box on Wednesday afternoon, agent Scott Boras loomed over a massive crowd of media in front of a Christmas tree. Boras offered a "happy holidays" to reporters and then embarked on a 56-minute discourse with Harper as the focal point. Boras, who also represents Bryant, noted that the Cubs' star is more than on the mend.
"He's fine. He looks great," Boras said. "I just saw him. He's in great shape."
Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein recently noted that Bryant is "progressing without limitations" and will follow his usual routine of ramping up his hitting program in January. If Bryant arrives to Spring Training with no lingering effects from last season's shoulder issue -- one that required two trips to the disabled list -- the Cubs' lineup will appear more potent by default.
During the 2018 campaign, Bryant posted a 125 wRC+ overall -- indicating that he was 25 percent above league average offensively -- but it was a tale of two seasons for the slugger.
Bryant posted a .524 slugging percentage through May 31 and saw that rate plummet to .400 from June 1 through the remainder of the regular season. His hard-hit rate (95-mph exit velocity or higher) was 27 percent after June 1, compared to 39 percent over the first two months, per Statcast™. Bryant also had the highest pulled ground-ball rate (69.3 percent) among the 176 right-handed hitters with at least 75 grounders.
The Cubs are optimistic that Bryant's offseason regimen will put the shoulder problems in the rearview mirror.
"He's working out close by here at UNLV, so we invited him in," Hoyer said. "It's good to see him. He looks great. He looks like he's focused. I think all the players we've talked to this winter, I think there's an added motivation when you had that extra month off that you didn't want to have off. I think he's excited and ready to go."
There is also the backdrop of the 26-year-old Bryant being eligible for arbitration for the second time this offseason, following a $10.85 million salary that set a first-year arbitration record last winter. Last month, a report surfaced that the Cubs -- in need of creativity in order to add a significant contract -- would be open to trading Bryant under the right circumstances.
Epstein has since clarified where things stand on that front publicly, and he has also talked to Bryant about the rumors.
"He wasn't concerned about it, but it's always good to hear," Epstein said last week. "I think our only relevant thinking there is probably what led to the report anyway, which I think I was asked a question: Do we have any untouchables? And the answer is no. There are enough limitations anyway in trying to get better. You don't want to impose an artificial one on yourself.
"I think in the same breath there, I said there are some players who are so talented, so well-rounded, so impactful, when you look at what they can do, their performance on the field and their impact on the franchise more broadly, that it's virtually impossible to find a match."
During Boras' press conference, the agent was asked if Chicago would be a more attractive destination for Harper if he knew Bryant (eligible for free agency in 2022) was going to be there long-term. The White Sox have been more strongly linked to Harper than the Cubs at this point in the winter.
Boras said he could not answer that specific question, adding that Harper's decision will not be centered around his friendship with Bryant.
"K.B. and Harp have a great personal, professional relationship," Boras said. "I think a lot of their conversations are about hitting -- really about hitting. I think they enjoy one another, but I think they also understand, these decisions, and what owners do, is really independent of their relationship. They don't have a lot of control over it."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.