The price for holding back Kris Bryant

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Can we all admit that we’ve used this saying at least once in our lives? We tell it to our kids like it’s in the Bible somewhere, but I don’t think it is. We tell it to people who are looking for something for nothing. We point out, whenever possible, that there’s always a hidden cost that somebody has to bear.

So why does all this thinking go out the window when it comes to Kris Bryant?

I’ll be the first to admit that I wanted him in the majors last fall, after the monster season he had in the minors. Not because it was going to help rescue the season, but because he earned it. Anyone who ever saw the old Smith Barney commercial with John Houseman knows that Kris Bryant did, in fact, earn his spot in the big leagues last year. But he was denied that shot.

And for anyone who thinks that hitting .425 with nine home runs in spring training wasn’t enough for Bryant to earn his spot on the Cubs’ Opening day roster this year, please stop reading this now. You’re not going agree with a word I say from this point forward.

So Kris Bryant goes back to the minors to start this season off. The payoff–as you and I and Kris Bryant and Scott Boras and anyone who follows this game knows–is that the Cubs will gain an extra year of control over Bryant’s services in 2021.

So if Bryant’s production is worth $20 million on the open market, he’ll get less than that amount from an arbitrator instead. That’s if the next CBA doesn’t change the way the system works, and I fully expect it will come up as a bone of contention when the current CBA expires. Bryant’s not the only one this has been done to, but he certainly is the most high-profile example.

And I fully expect that the Cubs will be forced to go the distance in arbitration with Kris Bryant. Even if Bryant doesn’t care about being sent back to the minors–and it would be naive in the extreme to believe that–the fact that Scott Boras represents him guarantees that things will be contentious from here on out. The Cubs don’t go to arbitration that often, but don’t count on this continuing when Kris Bryant gets to plead his case at some point down the road.

But that’s not the real cost that the Cubs will have to pay. The real price was on full display in Wrigley Field on Sunday night. Yes, Adam Wainwright was on his game, and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. And Kris Bryant is still just a rookie without a single big league at bat to his credit. But all the Cubs needed was one good swing.

We can’t know how Bryant would have fared against Wainwright on Sunday, because the bat was effectively taken out of his hands by the Cubs front office. Instead, we got Mike Olt at third base. The Mike Olt who–one would have to believe in order to fully support the front office’s decision with Kris Bryant–is the best that the Cubs have available at third base. Or maybe just the Mike Olt who’s good enough to hold down the job until the Bryant charade comes to an end.

The Mike Olt who played on Sunday night looked like more of the same from last year, instead. He went 0-for-4 in the game and struck twice. A hit or a walk, or perhaps just advancing a runner, would have contributed something to the team. But instead the Cubs paid a price for leaving Kris Bryant off the team.

So what, you might be asking? It’s just one game, and there are 161 more in the months to come. And those 162 games that Bryant will be dominating the National League in 2021 will make a shutout loss to the Cardinals on Opening Night in 2015 seem more palatable. Maybe so.

We’ll find out about Bryant in 2021 when the time comes. If he becomes the monster that we all want him to be, I’ll eat crow for this every day, all season long. But in the here and now, the Cubs are at 0-1 on the season, still waiting to push their first run across the plate.

What will the final tally be for this period of Bryant-lessness? We’ll know soon enough. But over the next few days, the Cubs offense will be paying a price for the move that the front office has made. Just think of it as lunch money.

R. Lincoln Harris is a guest contributor for Wrigleyville Nation. He also writes for BlueBattingHelmet.Wordpress.com, ChicagoSideSports.com, ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com, and FiveWideSports.com. Thanks R. Lincoln for the contribution!