One of baseball’s best bromances may be coming to an end and, after listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s new album on repeat (who isn’t?), I realized that Chicago Cubs fans may be in store for a brutal trade deadline and subsequent offseason. Kris Bryant is having an MVP-caliber season and Anthony Rizzo has kicked it into gear at the plate in May while providing his signature Gold Glove defense at first base. However, the teammates, best friends, and co-owners of Bryzzo Souvenir Co. are both in the final year of their contracts with the Cubs. I hate to say it, but it’s time Cubs fans brace for a potential Bryzzo breakup. With the help of “Brutal,” the lead-off track on Olivia Rodrigo’s chart-topping album, we’ll talk a little about the supposed golden years and the heartbreak that Cubs fans may soon endure.
And I’m so caught up in the news
Of who likes me and who hates you
Keeping up with trade rumors can be exhausting, but it’s hard to look away. After winning the NL MVP in 2016, Bryant was somewhat inconsistent, dealt with injuries, and then was one of many notable names to have a dismal 2020 season. Bryant, however, has turned it around in 2021. Pitcher List’s Max Greenfield talked about Bryant returning to his MVP-self this season in his Going Deep article titled The Cubs Need Kris Bryant. The team, depending on their status by mid-July and their confidence in re-signing him in the offseason, could decide to test the waters and dangle Bryant on the trade block. Looking at their return for Darvish, it would be interesting to see what they could get back for a second-half rental of Bryant.
Even the player himself can’t avoid getting caught up in the news. Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago noted that during a pregame Zoom session with the media, Bryant has acknowledged the elephant in the room but tries not to give it much attention:
“I’ve been playing baseball with Anthony Rizzo for — this is my seventh year now. And it’s like, yeah, it could be our last year together,” Bryant said. “But why would I want to just sit here and feel that pressure or sulk. I would rather really enjoy that and enjoy these memories.”
Anthony Rizzo took a proactive approach to try and avoid trade rumors and extension chatter by making sure his agents knew not to talk to him about negotiations anymore, saying he wanted to get ready for the season and stay focused on the Cubs team on the field right now.
And I’m so tired that I might
Quit my job, start a new life
And they’d all be so disappointed
‘Cause who am I, if not exploited?
Whether it be teams taking advantage of minor league players or manipulating the service time of top prospects, exploitation is thoroughly intertwined with America’s Pastime. Bryant, the second overall selection in the 2013 MLB draft, was the top prospect in 2015, and was set to make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. The Cubs, however, had other plans.
Players accrue Major League service time for each day they spent on the roster or injured list, with 172 days designating “one year” of Major League Service. After three years, the player is eligible for salary arbitration; after six years, the player is eligible for free agency. But wait! What happens if a player spends 171 days on the roster? Shouldn’t that count for something? Enter: Kris Bryant.
The Cubs knew they had a special player in Bryant and they were savvy, toeing the line between “fair” and “allowed.” If they were able to sequester Bryant in Triple-A for 12 days, he would not reach the 172 days of service time necessary for the “one year” mark and they would essentially gain another year of control during his prime years. So that’s what they did. Bryant and his agent, according to Sports Illustrated, would file a grievance arguing that “the Cubs failed to adhere to basic notions of procedural fairness and good faith,” but it was ruled that the team adhered to the agreed upon collective bargaining agreement and Bryant would be a free agent after the 2021 season.
So here we are. The Cubs acted in their best interest back in 2015, but Bryant voiced his displeasure then and surely hasn’t forgotten it now. I wouldn’t blame Bryant, if still a Cub by the end of the season, for walking away and starting a new life with a new team. The team (and the fans) would all be so disappointed, but Bryant knows what it’s like to be exploited.
All I did was try my best
This the kind of thanks I get?
The other half of the Bryzzo friendship surely has his own gripes. Rizzo set 2021’s Opening Day as his deadline for contract negotiations, intending to focus on the upcoming season whether or not a deal was completed. By the end of March, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Patrick Mooney reported that talks between the Cubs and Rizzo had ceased after the team offered their All-Star first baseman a five-year extension worth $70 million. For comparison, as they noted, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $130 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019.
When asked about contract extension negotiations on an early April episode of ESPN Chicago with Kap & J. Hood, Rizzo said “I don’t think there’s a reason to listen right now. I think I gave them every fair opportunity in the past years.” Even though it didn’t come through in the interview or other talks with the media, it’s understandable if Rizzo was frustrated by the unappreciative nature of the offer. For what it’s worth, the Cubs insider Wittenmyer called it embarrassing after the team touted Rizzo as the clubhouse leader and part of the championship team’s core.
Rizzo was with the Cubs from their humble beginnings as a 101-loss team in 2012, going through the arduous rebuilding process, and coming out the other side as a 2016 NL All-Star with a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and World Series Champion ring. Rizzo helped the Cubbies break their curse, but the team might leave their fans unrelentlessly upset.
It’s brutal out here
The Cubs are staring down a fork in the road, albeit a self-imposed one. Along with Bryant and Rizzo, Javier Báez will be a free agent after the 2021 season and Willson Contreras after the 2022 season. Will they continue to make a half-hearted attempt to compete or completely tear it down? I don’t have sympathy for the owners, quite the opposite. As a long-suffering Marlins fan, I am far too familiar with the stages of devastation fans endure after each destructive decision teams make. And that’s the hard part — the fans will be the ones that truly feel the brutal consequences.
Photo By Yousef Espanioly/Unsplansh | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)