The Rundown: Bryant Says Finger ‘Brutal,’ Cubs Would ‘Definitely Welcome’ Harper, Latest on Shohei Otani

There’s been a lot of speculation about the impact of Kris Bryant’s finger injury on his offensive production, namely his power. While he’s batting .324 in 83 plate appearances since hyperextending his pinkie on a slide, the MVP has hit just one home run and has a .446 slugging percentage with a .122 ISO. To add a little context, those latter numbers are about 80 and 130 points below his season averages prior to July 19.

Then again, most players would be more than happy with a “slump” that saw them producing well above average. Bryant’s been finding holes in the defense and his speed has allowed him to take advantage even when the ball isn’t flying over the fence as often as we’d all like. He also has a strikeout rate below 16 percent in the given sample, a sign that he’s not pressing and trying to force the issue.

Still, though, the lack of power from a guy known for hitting prodigious homers and being out in front of the launch-angle movement is a little concerning. The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma asked Bryant about that after Friday’s game, in which the slugger reached base five times on two walks and three well-placed singles.

“There’s no excuses,” Bryant said. “You deal with stuff like this all the time. This year just happens to be my hand. I wouldn’t use that as an excuse for anything.

“[The finger]’s brutal. It swells up. It’s actually kind of annoying to have to go to the training room every day to do all this work just to feel good.”

So I guess that answers that, kind of. More than anything, this is one of those nagging issues that’s just always going to be there. It doesn’t help that we’re talking about the bottom finger on his left hat, the one that’s right up against the knob of the bat on every swing.

But this isn’t a permanent issue and should continue to get better, even if it’s only at a glacial pace. In the meantime, maybe take a few moments to appreciate just how good a player Bryant is. Even with almost no power numbers, he’s putting up stats other guys can only dream of. Not too shabby.

Bryant on Harper

“Of course I don’t want to play alongside one of the best players in the game who also happens to be a friend I grew up with,” said no athlete ever. “I mean, why would I want the organization to get even better by adding more elite talent? That’s a big contract and I’m really concerned with the future ramifications of such a move because I think like a GM and not a ballplayer.”

That is most definitely not what Kris Bryant told Dan Bernstein and Jason Goff when asked about the idea of teaming up with Bryce Harper like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did back in their Miami days.

“Baseball’s a little different from basketball, I feel like,” the reigning MVP said. “But we’ll definitely welcome [Harper] here. He’d be a good addition.”

Bear in mind that Bryant was laughing as he discussed the possibility, knowing that the hosts were prodding him more than a little bit. He’s a regular guest on the show and this is a topic both he and Harper have been having fun with for a while.

“I kind of feel bad that when Bryce comes into town or just when we were playing them,” Bryant explained. “Everybody wants to ask him about, you know, is he going to play for the Cubs or any of that? He doesn’t know. I mean, that’s still a year away.”

It’s exactly that context that was missing from some of the reaction out there online from those outlets that chose to run with the first bit and act like it was real news. Like, duh, of course a great player wants another great player on his team. And when they’re childhood friends to boot? C’mon.

As for the reality of seeing the two Las Vegans back-to-back one day, I think we’ll have to hope Harper stays in the NL so it can happen in future All-Star Games. Sure, the Cubs would love to have him. But unless he’s going to take a steep discount in terms of overall money or time, I can’t see Scott Boras doing such a deal. This isn’t just about the agent, though, as some people have this misguided idea that Boras is forcing this guys to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.

You hire a shark of an rep to try to get you the most money he possibly can. And in Bryce Harper’s case, there’s probably a bigger pile of cash somewhere other than Chicago. But you’d better believe he and Bryant are going to keep having fun with the whole thing, which I think is awesome.

Shohei Otani could put MLB on hold one more year

When it comes to elite talent you’d like to see in Chicago, two-way Japanese superstar Shohei Otani is right there at the top of the list. An All-Star in his home country as both a pitcher and batter, Otani is more than just a novelty. American audiences missed a chance to see him Stateside after an ankle injury kept him out of the World Baseball Classic and they might have to wait another year to see him playing here professionally.

According to Jon Morosi, Otani has recently resumed pitching with a pair of bullpen sessions and is still struggling to get his legs under him in what has been an injury-plagued season.

“Does he now feel he owes his team, the Fighters, [after] having him miss pitching for almost the entire season?” Morosi quotes Ira Stevens, managing director and founder of the Japanese scouting service ScoutDragon, as saying. “This is known as giri, which means ‘obligation’ or ‘duty.’ [Ohtani] might feel one more year of giri, to not only the Fighters but also to the fans.”

Beyond any honor-bound obligation Otani might have to his team and fans, there’s a much more obvious motivation that cuts across all cultures. Giri is part of Japanese culture, but money knows no borders. And that’s why I never believed Otani would be moving to America prior to breaking free from the strictures of the new CBA.

Under the new labor agreement, international players must be 25 years old and have at least six years of service in their particular league before they can be considered MLB free agents. Leaving prior to that means a player is subject to a hard cap that sits around $6 million, with various allowances for additional pool money via trades. Then you’ve got a $300,000 limit placed on teams that exceeded their bonus allotment in previous seasons, effectively eliminating the Cubs and many others from being realistic contenders for big-time players.

Though we’re talking about a twenty-fold gap in those figures, both factor significantly in Otani’s emigration. The lower limit knocks out a number of would-be contenders and restricts the market for the free agent’s services. and the overall max completely stagnates Otani’s earning power. I don’t care how noble and virtuous a player’s motives are, he’d be a complete idiot to accept a deal that’s only a minor fraction of what he could command as a true free agent.

Otani should easily be able to land a deal north of $100 million, so why the hell would he even entertain the prospect of a max $6 million bonus. He wouldn’t. Besides, he performed poorly in his only start this season and hasn’t been healthy enough to display his wares. Another season spent in Japan effective checks all the boxes for the young pitcher/outfielder when it comes to maximizing his earning power.

Not only does Otani satisfy his gira, but he escapes MLB’s contractual limitations and could set himself of for an even bigger contract.

More news and notes

  • Nothing today, as the youth soccer fields call. Dry your tears, it’ll be okay.
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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and lead writer for Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana’s foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan’s greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College. You can follow him on Twitter @DEvanAltman.

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