Bryant on final, stolen year: ‘not easiest pill to swallow'


Kris Bryant famously had a billboard above the street outside of Wrigley Field before he had an at-bat inside the place.

A slick video produced by one of the companies that endorses him featured an All-Star cast making fun of the Cubs for keeping him in the minors an extra two weeks to manipulate his service time.

And then he won a Rookie of the Year Award, a hallowed championship, an MVP, made four All-Star teams, helped the Cubs reach the playoffs five times in six years, and this week — in the middle of that purloined seventh season team president Theo Epstein snatched with the service-time trick — finds himself on the brink of being traded by a fourth-place team about to start over.

“And the guy’s not even here anymore,” Bryant said with a laugh.

Bryant calls it all part of “God’s plan” and seems at peace with whatever direction he heads, assuming the Mets, Giants, Yankees or somebody else gets a deal done with Epstein’s successor, Jed Hoyer, before Friday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline — or if he inexplicably stays.

“Whatever happens, happens. I’m ready for that,” he said Tuesday during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago — before hitting his 18th homer of the year in a loss to the Reds.

“But, yeah, the way you look at it, it’s kind of funny that we are in this situation,” he said. “Because you wouldn’t have thought we’d be in this situation.

“It’s not the easiest pill to swallow, but it’s OK.”

If anything, Bryant has had plenty of time to prepare for this moment — what are likely the final days in Cubs uniform for the franchise’s best homegrown player since Greg Maddux more than a generation ago.

“I guess I’m prepared for it,” said Bryant, who was among the All-Star players Epstein publicly threatened to trade in recent seasons. “Maybe earlier on I wasn’t as prepared for it and let more of the rumors get to me.

“Now I just don’t even really need to focus on it,” he added, “because when it comes down to it, too, like I found out this offseason through Jed, a lot of it is just noise. So you can’t really believe certain things.”

He at least knows the possibility is real this time around. His agent Scott Boras checked in with Hoyer a week or so ago — though Bryant has chosen not to seek too many details of the conversation.

“If I wanted to find out, I’m sure I could ask,” he said. “But I just wanted to focus on playing baseball.”

And, no, he hasn’t actually packed up his stuff as he and his wife and 15-month-old await word of where he might be headed. Nor does he seem to be sweating the imminence.

“I’m just ready for whatever chapter’s next,” Bryant said. “If it’s a continuation of my chapter here with Chicago, that would be a great story. If it’s not, then you do whatever you can for whatever  team you’re playing for and be thankful for what we had here.”

It’s been one of the most decorated rides in club history so far. That includes an All-Star season on the way out — with a .305-hitting, .957-OPS July that has only raised his value and the temperature on talks.

He just maybe didn’t expect that seventh, manipulated year of club control to mean so little for the team after all the big talk of "sustained success," not to mention run of winning seasons the last six years — or for his status to become such a constant topic of conversation for such an extended stretch.

“It’s exhausting to just think about it non-stop,”he said. “So I’ve chosen not to, and just try to focus on what I can do on the field and my swing and what I need to do to help us win.

“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, I’m in the right space because I’ve just been focusing on baseball.”

Exhausting? Did you see the look on his face when — after two days of answering the same questions from different reporters from around the country — he was asked by Joe Buck in that mic’d-up moment during the All-Star game about likely getting traded?

“Everybody had to have their chance to ask their question,” Bryant said. “And I think everybody took advantage of their chance to ask questions. So I answered them.

“But just because I’m answering annoying questions the whole time doesn’t take away from my experience with my family and National League teammates. … I had a great time.”

This is where you remember how pitch-perfect Bryant has been as one of the public faces of the team, from the moment his face was plastered on that billboard in 2015 through those playoff games in Los Angeles when he stood in the clubhouse and talked after tough losses when teammates hid, all the way up to this “exhausting” final week of rumors, uncertainty and the same loop of questions when he stops to talk.

“Did I get traded yet?” he deadpanned at one point Tuesday, then smiled. “I can’t wait till I don’t get traded, and then you guys will be, like, ‘Oh, [damn].’ “

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