K.B. savoring stability after turbulent winter

Cubs star can now shrug off false text welcoming him to Mets

February 25th, 2021

MESA, Ariz. -- does not know who sent him the text. It came from a Connecticut number and followed a rumor out of New York that was gaining momentum across social media, claiming that the Cubs star could be traded within 48 hours.

"Welcome to the Mets," read the message on Bryant's phone.

Bryant has dealt with plenty of rumors and reports over the past few years, but that notification was unsettling. He quickly called his agent, Scott Boras, and they connected with Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer. It was a false alarm from a false report.

"That's the kind of stuff that I feel like is nice to know," Bryant said in a Zoom discussion on Thursday. "When there's something that's completely false. Because at the end of the day, we are all human, and sometimes when you get a text that says something like that, it's like, well, that might kind of mess with me a little bit."

On Thursday morning, Bryant was not in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with the Mets. The third baseman was at Sloan Park in Arizona with the only team he has ever known, stepping in to face Cubs starter Jake Arrieta in live batting practice. In his first at-bat, Bryant let loose his signature swing, blasting a baseball onto the berm beyond the left-field wall.

It was just a BP home run, but it was a picture of health and power that was missing throughout Bryant's injury-plagued 2020 season. That year was followed by an offseason full of trade speculation, given the reality that Bryant is one of Chicago's core players who could enter free agency next winter.

Hoyer has made it known that he plans to meet with Bryant and others this spring to discuss the possibility of extensions. Bryant is very much looking forward to that moment, and he reiterated what he has said for several seasons in a row: He would love to stay with the Cubs.

"I guess I can kind of sound like a broken record," Bryant said. "I've always said I've been open and willing to hear whatever Jed now has to say, and would take it with open arms and consider everything that is thrown my way. I think I've communicated that well with them. So, they know where I stand.

"They know what I think. So, honestly, use whatever quotes I've said in the past. That still rings true today."

The only difference in the current situation -- beyond the fact that Bryant is now in his walk year -- is that Hoyer has taken the front-office reins after Theo Epstein stepped down over the offseason. And when Hoyer traded ace Yu Darvish in December, it certainly made other blockbuster transactions with the future in mind plausible.

As trade rumors about Bryant swirled -- the Mets, Dodgers, Nationals, Braves and Blue Jays were all mentioned at various points -- Hoyer kept in contact with Boras and Bryant. During a December Zoom call with media, Boras made it sound like Bryant was not going anywhere.

"I think that the Cubs obviously know K.B. very, very well," Boras said. "Jed knows him very, very well. They have great plans for him. We've talked to him about that -- what his role will be, a very important role going forward from 2020. He's a huge core of his team, as you'd expect from a player of his abilities."

Bryant said he was appreciative of how Hoyer kept the lines of communication open and transparent, allowing the third baseman to focus on his training without worrying about the outside noise.

"He's been really transparent with me and my side," Bryant said. "Honestly, I've really appreciated that. I've never had that type of security or communication, so that was met very well, and I really appreciated that from him. I let him know that. We're on great terms -- a great way to start off our relationship in his new role."

Hoyer plans on keeping with that approach, if it helps ease a player's mind, especially with the Trade Deadline likely to stir up more rumors and reports (true or not).

"Players understand that this is a business," Hoyer said. "They understand that they could be traded. They're not naive to those things. I think when you read your name in the paper and everyone starts texting you, and your wife or your friends start wondering, I think that causes a lot of uncertainty.

"And if I can provide some relief from that, I think that's a good thing. So, I'd encourage Kris, but I would encourage any of our guys, just to come talk to me and have an open dialogue if they have anxiety about that."

And now, Bryant can concentrate on moving on from last year.

Bryant played in only 34 of the Cubs' 60-game season, hitting .206 with four homers, 11 RBIs and a .644 OPS. He was hit with a minor back issue in Summer Camp and a right elbow setback early in the season. An ill-fated dive attempt on Aug. 12 in Cleveland banged up his left wrist and left ring finger. A right oblique problem flared in September.

That all added up to a season that Bryant said was "pretty easy for me to just throw away and move on from." In his last full season in 2019, all the third baseman did was post 31 homers, 35 doubles and 108 runs with a .903 OPS. That was closer to the level Bryant reached as the National League Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2015 or the NL MVP in 2016.

For one swing in live BP on Thursday, Bryant looked like that player again, too.

"I'm here to help the Cubs win," Bryant said. "And do what I've been doing here for the last six years."