Theo Epstein Clarifies Cubs’ Expectations for Kris Bryant’s Health

The Cubs have said all along that they wanted to wait until Kris Bryant was fully healthy before activating him from his second DL stint with a bum shoulder. But in his weekly appearance on 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show this past Tuesday, Joe Maddon raised an eyebrow or three when he cast doubt on that notion.

“I’m not anticipating 100 percent,” the skipper admitted. “That’s hard to anticipate or expect this time of year. We’re just waiting for him to work through this point, to get to the point where it’s manageable. He’s doing better. He’s doing more baseball activities right now.”

That’s a little different from what Jed Hoyer said previously, which is that the Cubs needed Bryant at full strength and that there wasn’t much point in bringing him back if he was a lesser version of himself.

“I think you’re talking semantics a little bit there,” Epstein explained. “What Jed meant is that if Kris feels pain in his swing and is therefore restricted enough to completely change his approach and his swing, it wouldn’t be wise to throw him right into a pennant race.

“And I think what Joe was referring to was the volume of play. He’s not gonna be able to get him back to a situation where right away he’s playing every single day and Joe doesn’t have to give it a second thought.”

I can buy that. Even if Bryant’s shoulder is totally comfortable and he’s feeling confident in his ability to really cut that swing loose, he’s missed a lot of time and may not be at full strength right from the jump. And even if there are no signs to indicate reduced production, Maddon will want to pump the breaks on using him too frequently.

At the same time, the Cubs don’t want management of Bryant’s playing time to be based in any way on mitigating discomfort in his shoulder. That’s how they tried to do it the first time around and it just resulted in another trip to the DL.

“One of the goals of this rehab and why it’s been so methodical has been trying to get to a point where Kris has no pain with full range of motion and he’s able to take his swing and not feel it,” Epstein said. “Feel comfortable and find a finish for him that’s pain-free.

“We’re at the point where he’s been progressing with the dry swings and the tee swings and the flips and hasn’t felt anything. So that’s what we’re looking for.”

As for the more distant future, Epstein said there’s a good chance Bryant will not need offseason surgery to address his shoulder issues. Well, not this year. Given that big swing and long finish he’s been utilizing for the last 20 years, you can never be certain of anything.

“He’s got some wear and tear in there that players have and he definitely felt it when he made that slide in Cincinnati but you’d have to look to Little League if you’re trying to find a baseball player with a completely clean shoulder,” Epstein quipped.

So the moral of the story is to take everything with a grain of salt and layer various parties’ comments over one another to establish the truth. Wait, that sounds like good advice in just about every situation. But in this particular situation, I think we can draw some pretty firm conclusions about Bryant’s progress and immediate outlook.

He’s swinging without pain in very closely controlled situations, which is a good sign. The Cubs won’t rush him back and want to make certain there’s still no pain as Bryant builds to more strenuous activity. Even when he returns to action, his playing time will be closely monitored to ensure he remains healthy and rested for another playoff run.

Epstein also discussed Yu Darvish (rehab start this weekend almost certain), Jose Quintana (disappointing but still possessed of the tools to get it done), and David Bote (a good dude who might be the organization’s best player-development success). The baseball boss also discussed plunking batters and how a change in the atmosphere in St. Louis has the Cardinals playing better baseball.

You can listen to all of that and more below…

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