Epstein on Bryant Debut: I Have Never Once put a Young Prospect on an Opening Day Roster

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Theo Epstein and the way he conducts the business of baseball. And that’s what it is at this level: business. No one knows that better than Scott Boras, a man whose livelihood is derived from wringing as much money as possible from the clutches of major league teams.

As often occurs when two alpha males find themselves at odds, Boras and Epstein have been trading jabs. And while it would be far more entertaining to hand the two men switchblades and tie their off-hands together as onlookers dance lithely in the background, the verbal sparring has still been pretty fun.

This back and forth has been going on all spring, but Boras launched yet another salvo during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show Wednesday, accusing the Cubs of sullying the game’s integrity. As Tony Andracki points out, though, the super-agent did acknowledge that it’s a club’s right to determine who plays and when.

“That should be a managerial decision – and organizational decision – on a daily basis as to who to play,” Boras said. “However, what gets rather ridiculous is that why would you not play a player that is so dominant in his performance for your team?

“That’s what I think Major League Baseball is about – that the primary goal of everyone is that the integrity of the game be kept and the best players play in the big leagues.”

Patrick asked Boras if he would do the same thing in the Cubs shoes – trade nine games for one full year. Boras evaded the question a bit, calling into question the “integrity” of the game again, and never answered Patrick with a “yes” or “no.”

“I think the issue here is, this is not a baseball performance decision,” Boras said. “This is a decision that’s based upon baseball control. The jobs of what general managers do and club presidents do to determine what they want to do long-term is one issue, but I think that the integrity of the game requires that we have the best players in baseball.”

As part of his closing thoughts, Patrick asked Boras what his reaction would be on Opening Day if Bryant isn’t on the Cubs’ roster:

“I think Major League Baseball is injured,” Boras said. “I think every fan will look at the Cubs differently and every opponent will look at them differently. And that’s not what we want. We want to know that when we go to the ballpark, the greatest players in the world are on that field and that brand is something I think owners, unions and everybody involved has to protect.”

Not one to practice verbal pacifism, Theo Epstein was quick to return fire, calling into question Boras’s professionalism and the manner in which he has conducted this skirmish of statements. In an exclusive sit-down with David Kaplan, Epstein discussed his current charge and his history with top prospects.

“I have a lot of respect for Scott and he by and large does a great job for his clients,” Epstein said. “The only part about it that bothers me is that he certainly could have picked up the phone before going to the national media about this. He never once called me and asked me if Kris would make the team or anything about his situation. So just from a personal level and professional respect, that would have been something that I would have done if I was in his shoes.

“Beyond that, Scott has a forum and obviously people are publishing what he says. He has a job to do and he has a great client who is a fantastic kid. The person who is handling this with the most professionalism and maturity is Kris Bryant. I couldn’t be more proud of how he is handling a very difficult situation. He is getting asked about it every day. He doesn’t get to just go focus on playing the game; he is asked about this from all corners and he is handling himself in a way that makes the Cubs proud.

“As far as when Kris makes his major league debut and whether it will be part of this Opening Day roster, we haven’t put that final roster together yet,” Epstein said. “I can say this: This is my 13th time putting a team together at the end of spring training and I have never once put a young prospect on an Opening Day roster when he had to make his major league debut (with the exception of a Rule 5 player).

“I’ve never done it and it’s always been for baseball reasons. This is not a different situation than we’ve faced in the past, so let’s make the best decision for the Chicago Cubs and for Kris Bryant’s development.”

I’m not sure how much I buy the opening few words of that final sense if we’re really looking at the black-and-white of things. However, given my own assertion that baseball is a business, we could swap those terms in Epstein’s statement without a loss in veracity.

This isn’t virgin territory for the Cubs president, as he’s “broken in some pretty good young players over the years from Kevin Youkilis to Hanley Ramirez to Dustin Pedroia to Jacoby Ellsbury to Jon Lester to Jonathan Papelbon.” As an aside, I must always say “Papelbon,” either aloud or silently, with an obnoxiously exaggerated New England accent (yes, I know that’s redundant).

But what about GM Jed Hoyer? Could Boras turn Epstein’s own definitive proclamation against him by exploiting the past deeds of his right-hand man’s time in San Diego? Based on some crack research from our on-again, off-again correspondent Gunther Dabynsky:

For what it’s worth, Anthony Rizzo debuted on June 9th, 2001. Then again, not even the highly-touted Rizzo was a match for Bryant’s transcendent awesomeness. And that’s really why this continues to be such a big deal. If Bryant was batting .250 with 3 home runs, no one bats an eye at talk of a little more seasoning in AAA.

But his numbers are somewhat closer to other-worldly than pedestrian. When even my 8-year-old daughter remarked that the ball sounds different coming off his bat, you know there’s something special about this young man. Nothing, however, appears to special enough to force Epstein to break his streak.

As fans, we should be glad that the people running this team are not willing to cave in to pressure from agents, fans, or even (gasp!) bloggers when it comes to how they should do their jobs. Do I want to see Bryant up right away for purely selfish reasons? Sure. But between Opening Day and Bryant Day, it’ll be like celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas in the spring.

I, for one, am looking forward to covering baseball games rather than pissing matches, though I suppose the two are sometimes combined during those late-game trough breaks. In any case, the fighting over sightlines and service time will soon give way to games and stats that actually count and that, my friends, will be a good day.

Until then, I’ll continue to marvel at the exploits of a man rocking a non-roster jersey number and to laugh at the epigrammatic soundbites from Cubs execs and lawyers alike.

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