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Kris Bryant's Future Bar Trick

The Beloved Chicago Cubs and their Beloved Fans should worry that Kris Bryant one day might be the second coming of Draymond Green.

Or even worse - cripes! - Lou Brock.

Cubs management has sent every verifiable signal that they collectively want to trade their young superstar as fast as possible because, you know, he'll want to be paid in 2021 what he's worth in the current market, and the Ricketts family is almost broke. Down to its last two or three billion.

A point of order. When baseball owners complain about the strangling effect of flush salaries for players, remember they are the ones who set the market. They even created the system when beer baron and St. Louie Cards owner Augie Busch publicly taunted centerfielder Curt Flood into suing for free agency escape. Millions now are spent over what essentially was a $10,000 raise that Busch would not pay.

As with ancient, cliched and largely forgotten cartoon philosopher Pogo, we have met the enemy and he is us.

There is little sophisticated or clever in the Cubs' emotional dismissal of Bryant. They are saying that Bryant is worth less to them than what they always implied, which makes him less valuable on the market every day.

"Everything is on the table," the Cubs now say about Bryant, though probably "everything" does not mean dealing a 1 percent slice of concession income or a pair of player development scouts to be named later. This is a meat market sale, and Bryant is the meat.

And Green's relevance?

He offers a cautionary reflection.

If Green is presented with a bar bet challenge, he can name in order of their selection each of the 33 players picked ahead of him in the 2012 NBA draft when Golden State plucked him out of Michigan State.

Seen him do it.

He does this parlor trick litany to remind each of the 33 - mostly busts but none as good for as long as Green has been - that, in essence . . . I see all of you. And I know all those teams who shunned me, too. I am coming for you.

It's a large, juicy, smelly chip on his shoulder that inspires him to play hard defensively every night. That ferocity is his business. The number crunchers at 538 have created a defense-value algorithm that enumerates Green as the best defensive player of his era.

He's coiled and hostile. He plays angry.

His defense forces the teams who passed on him to pay every night for that flawed judgement.

There is nothing as satisfying as succeeding and simultaneously causing psychic pain to those who shunned you. Schadenfreude is an unappreciated delicacy. The Cubs are shunning Bryant, almost publicly. Be warned. Be careful.

And Brock?

He never made much stink about his attitude that the Cubs traded him. Cubs management was stupendously dumb in the 1960s, and could never decide how they wanted Brock to play.

But Brock sits in the Hall of Fame because he stole 938 bases, piled up 3,023 hits, and batted .391 in 21 World Series games.

He also batted .333 against the Cubs over 16 seasons, which means statistically he was on base against the Cubs as a lethal base stealer more often than against any other team in the National League. Brock hit .290 against everyone else.

So, Brock inferentially is a Hall of Famer because the Cubs traded him, and even more likely because he got to play the Cubs 200 times.

Even if Brock was not angry in his retribution, he was consistent. That memory still torments the Cubs soul, even if it was not intentionally directed as punishment.

The unresolved question is whether Bryant is fundamentally indifferent to which team pays him $300 million for the next 12 years, or has some amorphous but actual devotion to the Cubs.

The 1960s are not the 2020s, and attitudes have shifted tectonically.

But the hometown-loves-you-gruel served by the Cubs for years does not seem as binding now. Plus, the team has a harder time selling the we-love-Bryant meme after essentially costing him $30 million in unrecoverable free agent cash by manipulating his service time in the Big Show.

The Cubs had every legal right to weasel Bryant out of that payday. So they did. They paid themselves first with his money based on his value as property.

But that's not what devoted family members do to each other. How much would $30 million motivate you?

Bryant's reaction might amount to modern-pro-athlete-business-as-usual, or he might become Draymond Green or Lou Brock with a bat in his hand.

The Cubs' chieftains have had every chance to say they do not want to trade Bryant, and have passed on those opportunities.

Thus, when the Cubs trade Bryant for other young prospects who might or might not ever be as good as he is, there are rules.

To defend any trade, the Cubs need proof that what they got in return was better than Bryant. Tough call on that, and baseball history is littered with the carcasses of bad deals fueled by credulous stupidity. The Cubs have been both the victim and beneficiary of recent trade nincompoopery - on the plus side, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta, for example.

If they properly intuit the risk, the Cubs would be wise to trade Bryant out of the National League as St. Louis did with Albert Pujols, because Bryant will use every at-bat in Wrigley Field to batter the Cubs and make them eternally sorry. Bryant has 138 homers in five seasons, 78 of them at Wrigley.

It's nothing personal, you understand. Just business.

He'll slug the Cubs even if he isn't angry. He'll do it because he's built physically and mentally to torture mediocre pitching at Wrigley Field.

Cubs fans and their media water carriers have spent 40 years pretending that trading Brock was not the mistake that clearly would haunt rational thinkers.

Bryant does not react publicly as though he knows the Cubs are only playing a perception game, and he is safe in Chicago.

Rather the Cubs are dangling Bryant for public display, which is not lucid bargaining strategy unless you merely want to see how fans will react.

Cubs VP Theo Epstein might cynically decry idle trade rumors in public, but the rumors start with him, and would end if he wished them to.

He has all but put Bryant up for auction, and asked for bids.

And Green? He shows that pro athletes who make millions off their skill have often brittle emotional self-images. They take disrespect hard, and though the "I Get No Respect" meme is overused, the concept reflects human motivation.

Even pro athletes are real people with vulnerabilities we'd all recognize from our own lives.

The boss who smirks at you and your dreams, while chumming with a kiss-up and largely worthless colleague.

The spouse who laughs at your personal, hurtful embarrassments, rather than taking your side.

In essence, the at-best indifferent world that treats you badly, and acts as though you deserve to be insulted.

Everybody hates to be disrespected, even young superstars who make $18 million a year.

That's why Cubs fans should be thinking how odd and cool the world has turned since winning the World Series, and how little loyalty arose from that event. Everybody is just meat for sale.

They also should hope Bryant has a short, forgiving memory. Or alternatively and less likely, that he was never as gifted as he seemed.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. He welcomes your comments.

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