Imrem: Sending Cubs' phenom Bryant to minors a bit of risky business

  • The Cubs are saying that the return of Kris Bryant to minor-league camp this week is a baseball decision, but many are not so sure. Not after Bryant led the Cactus League with 9 home runs in 40 at-bats this spring.

    The Cubs are saying that the return of Kris Bryant to minor-league camp this week is a baseball decision, but many are not so sure. Not after Bryant led the Cactus League with 9 home runs in 40 at-bats this spring. Associated Press/Las Vegas News Bureau

 
 
Updated 4/2/2015 8:48 AM

Commerce vs. Competition is one of the great rivalries in sports.

Yes, right up there with Bears-Packers and, more relevant today, Cubs-Cardinals.

 

Commerce beats Competition too often, which shouldn't be surprising considering that it is pro sports.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein insists that sending Kris Bryant to the minor leagues this week was a baseball decision.

Meanwhile, pitching ace Jon Lester was quoted as saying after the move, "It's a business."

No, sir, your boss said it's baseball.

Lester also was quoted as proclaiming, "As a player, it (bleeps)."

Yet as a veteran, Lester long ago accepted the business of baseball and recently also a $155 million contract.

So why does Epstein keep saying that sending down Bryant was about baseball? A good guess is that Commerce-over-Competition thing.

Sports is a tug between financial considerations and championship aspirations. Sometimes decisions have to be made to balance the two.

One of the defenses for sending down Bryant is that if it's OK for players to make money an object, it must be OK for management to do so.

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The difference is that a player isn't compromising the competition by using the system to maximize his compensation.

Unless, that is, he's Manny Ramirez -- ironically whom Epstein brought into the Cubs' organization -- dogging it as a negotiating ploy. Ramirez let greed get in the way of his Red Sox teammates succeeding and of Boston fans receiving their money's worth.

The problem with demoting Bryant even for a couple of weeks and handful of games in the name of business is that it allows Commerce to trump Competition.

As ESPN commentator Curt Schilling put it Wednesday on a conference call, a player wants to know that the front office is all in.

Especially disappointing about Bryant is the benefit to the franchise and fans won't be reaped until 2021.

By starting the season in the minor leagues, Bryant will be under Cubs' control for an additional season.

Think about this: Epstein makes a big point that the shelf life in his job is 10 years at the most.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Epstein has been with the Cubs for three seasons. Taking him at his word, in 2021 his tenure here will end.

Kris Bryant and agent Scott Boras might carry a grudge over this week's manipulation of service time and inflict payback by spurning the Cubs when eligible for free agency.

By then Epstein will be gone anyway, leaving the predicament to his successor.

But 2021 is a long ways away … though Cubs management must not think so if it felt the need to pick Commerce over Competition in 2015.

The Cubs have less chance to win this month with Bryant in the minors instead of the majors, though Epstein surely wouldn't allow himself to agree.

Epstein's policy is that a player shouldn't begin his major-league career on Opening Day.

If that one makes little sense, try this one: Bryant needs to go down and improve defensively.

What if he doesn't get better? What if he stinks at third base and in the outfield? Will his yearly 30-40 home runs wallow in the minors forever?

No, probably not because at some point Competition will win out over Commerce.

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta tweeted about Bryant, "stay the course … WE WILL have a spot waiting."

Until Bryant fills it, the score will remain Commerce 1, Competition 0.

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