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SportsMonday: Controlling Kris Bryant

The day couldn't have started worse for the Cubs. They watched on Sunday as DJ LeMahieu sparked an early four-run Rockie rally with a three-run triple. LeMahieu of course was the one of the guys the Cubs gave up in Theo Epstein's first ill-fated trade way back in his first year in command. LeMahieu and Tyler Colvin were the ransom paid to acquire third-baseman Ian Stewart, who was a total bust on and off the field.

LeMahieu, who is settling in as the starting second baseman for the Rockies this year, has hit the season sprinting, and after going 1-for-4 on Sunday he sported a .480 batting average heading into the second week.

But against all odds (with two outs and two strikes), Dexter Fowler followed up Welington Castillo's RBI single with the two-run homer that turned a one-run deficit into a 6-5 victory.

I'm not sure there has been a more unlikely ending to a baseball game anywhere in the majors so far this year. The Cubs won the series and upped their record to 3-2.

Oh, and the pitcher Fowler victimized? Good old LaTroy Hawkins, who never could quite settle into the closer's role with the Cubs way back when despite all the talent in the world and now has already blown two saves for the Rockies this young season (so maybe the ending wasn't 1,000 percent unlikely after all).

And it is starting to look as though maybe they will pull it off. Maybe the Cubs brass will get to the end of the week without the team having completely crashed and will be able to bring up Kris Bryant from the minors without the pressure that would accompany a bad start.

Of course, first they will have to get past that whole embarrassing deal where they will have to explain how two weeks in the minors could have really made a difference in terms of Bryant's development. One would think it would be tough to keep a straight face while trying to claim that such a short stint would enable any player to make significant improvements.

Apparently fearing a grievance that might go with a player being sent to the minors for reasons other than performance on the field, the Cubs have been saying that Bryant's demotion had nothing to do with the fact that with two more weeks in the minors, the club could assert control over Bryant in 2021 rather than having him become a free agent before that season.

Then again, given that so many members of the Chicago sports media crowd have been ignoring those statements and congratulating the team on its business savvy, maybe it won't be that embarrassing. Theo will mouth some platitudes about avoiding the pressure of Opening Day, no one will put him on the spot, and folks will move on.

A few more words about Bryant's future with the team: All of us Cubs fans hope he will continue to show the remarkable power that enabled him to lead all of baseball with nine home runs in spring training this year. And he already has a couple Triple-A home runs in the regular season. But all of those blasts simply do not translate into automatic regular season major league power - period.

That is one reason why it has been so goofy for so many fans and commentators to worry about Bryant's status in 2021. We are all aware of the millions of things that could happen between then and now. Maybe we could wait until the guy has one decent major league season before we start obsessing about what his contract will be way down the line.

Also, if the Cubs have to assert control over Bryant in 2021, they will have blown it. That would mean the Cubs had failed to sign him to a standard long-term contract after his third or fourth productive year. That is the contract in which a young player receives better compensation during his arbitration years and long-term security in exchange for giving up a few years of potential free agency. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Chris Sale, just to name a few, have signed these sorts of contracts in the past few years.

If the Cubs have to go to arbitration with Bryant in 2021 - and that is what having control actually entails - it will generate ill will and it will make it that much more unlikely that Bryant will sign with the Cubs as a free agent the next season.

It is incredible that this is where the conversation has gone. Then again, this is a town where during a third straight tanked season last year, a season in which the big marketing campaign focused on celebrating 100 years of losing at Wrigley Field, attendance actually went up.

It is all so Cub.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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