The Rundown: Kris Bryant 2020 Report Card, Cubs Seeking Consistency from Several Young Players, Dodgers and Rays Advance to World Series

Even though Kris Bryant has been unfairly targeted by Cubs fans since 2017, there’s absolutely no way to sugarcoat the fact that he had a wretched year. Not only was it the worst season of his career, it came during the penultimate year of Chicago’s team control over their third baseman. Bryant, who has both Rookie of the Year (2015) and MVP (2016) awards in his trophy case, will enter his final year before free agency on a steep downward trend.

Though any vitriol directed his way is usually more drama than substance, Bryant did nothing this season to quiet the thunderous crowd that would like to ship him out of Wrigley Field. At least the three-time All-Star responded to his critics at the end of the season, though some of the more hard-hearted Cubs fans remained unimpressed. Most are still somewhat frosted that KB questioned his service time at the start of his career, or that he allegedly turned down an imaginary $200 million offer from the Cubs sometime in 2018.

Over the 2018 and ’19 seasons, the third baseman combined to hit .278/.379/.476 with a 131 wRC+, making him a 7.1 fWAR player. While he was an elite performer at the beginning of his MLB career, he’s struggled a bit since finishing 2017 with a .295/.409/.537 slash line. The issue with many Cubs fans is that they expect him to be an annual 1.000+ OPS hitter. He’s simply not that, and though 2019 was a bit of a redemptive year for Bryant, 2020 was nothing short of a festering sinkhole.

Unfortunately, I’m grading Bryant on his 2020 season and not on his entire body of work since arriving to the bigs in ’15. Nagging injuries limited his playing time this year and most certainly affected his performance. In fact, a grand slam and a solo homer in the final series of the season helped get the slugger to double digits in runs batted in for the 60-game season.

I’d like to be generous and give Bryant an incomplete for the year, but he tried to play through some of those injuries and he should therefore be graded on his results. I’m sure he’d be just as harsh if he were grading himself, so I don’t feel guilty about this one. That said, I expect him to bounce all the way back in 2021 and he should make a run for Comeback Player of the Year.

  • Final Stat Line: .206/.293/.351, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 76 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR
  • Final Grade: F

Cubs News & Notes

  • If the Cubs were to move a core player this winter, such as Bryant or shortstop Javier Báez, they likely wouldn’t receive a top prospect from teams interested in either. But there are some intriguing prospects who might be available that could help the Cubs strengthen their farm system.
  • MLBTR released their offseason arb estimates over the weekend and it was exceptionally difficult to pin down an expected number for most players. Regardless, there could be a record number of non-tenders this winter. Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Ryan are the likeliest non-tender candidates for the Cubs.
  • Though Ian Happ was the team’s best hitter in 2020, he needs to be more consistent at the plate if he’s going to be an everyday starter. Happ’s batting average was .304 on September 7 and he finished at just .258 after slumping in the final weeks. He’s hardly to blame for the Cubs offensive woes this season, though.
  • Chicago had a number of options at second base this season, including Jason Kipnis, Nico Hoerner, and David Bote, yet it still feels like the Cubs could use an upgrade at the keystone. Hoerner should have the inside track to starting in ’21 barring any trades or signings. Though Bote struggled to make consistent contact, he did lead the team with 29 RBI.
  • Many insiders believe Jon Lester will be returning to the Cubs as a fifth starter as he seeks to win his 200th career game in 2021. If you are bothered by Lester’s unsightly 5.16 ERA this season, take it with a grain of salt. The veteran had two pitiful games against the White Sox, accounting for 15 of the 35 earned runs he allowed. Minus those two starts, Lester had a nifty 3.35 ERA.
  • The Cubs may not be one of the bigger spenders in free agency this winter, but they are expected to sign super IFA shortstop prospect Cristian Hernandez once he becomes eligible on January 15. The international signing period typically begins July 2, but MLB delayed the start of this cycle due to the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season at the time.
  • Missed this a couple weeks ago, but former Cubs executive Jim Hendry could receive some consideration for the GM opening in the Phillies’ front office.

Apropos of Nothing

Other than the disappointing ending for Cubs fans, you have to admit that the 2020 season has been just as exciting as any other. In the end, did it really matter that teams played just 60 games? Hopefully, a return to normalcy is the 2021 target. It’s probably safe to assume that once the World Series ends, negotiations regarding the new CBA will suck all of the joy out of this season.

Odds & Sods

Cubs fans are very familiar with the postseason heroics of one Kiké Hernández. But who the heck remembered that Troy O’Leary played for the Cubs and hit a home run in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS?

Postseason Potables

The curtain closed on the Astros season Saturday, much to the enjoyment of baseball fans outside of the Houston city limits. After storming back from a 3-0 deficit to the Rays to tie the ALCS, Tampa Bay grabbed the winner-take-all game with a 4-2 win to advance to their first World Series since 2008. Randy Arozarena was the hero once again, stroking a 1st inning two-run homer off of Houston starter off of Lance McCullers Jr. to give the Rays a lead they never relinquished. Arozarena was named series MVP.

The Dodgers will stay in Texas to play Tampa Bay in the World Series after dropping the Braves 4-3 in their Game 7 tilt. Los Angeles matched an LCS record with 16 homers, including clutch drives by Hernández and Cody Bellinger to tie and then take the lead in last night’s game. The Dodgers started Dustin May on short rest and then rode outstanding efforts by relievers Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, and Julio Urías to keep Atlanta at bay. Corey Seager had an 0-for-5 night and left five runners on base, but the sweet swinging shortstop finished the series with 5 home runs and 11 RBI, both NLCS records, and was named MVP of the series.

How About That!

Mookie Betts made a stunning catch in right field last night, robbing Freddie Freeman of a home run.

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner made an outstanding play to nab Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson in a rundown, then still had time to nail Austin Riley, who tried to advance to third on the play. That may have been the most decisive play of the game.

The Rays have stormed through the playoffs, knocking off the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Astros thanks to good pitching and great defense.

Joe Maddon believes Tony La Russa would be an excellent managerial choice for the White Sox should team owner Jerry Reinsdorf elect to sign his former skipper. La Russa last managed the White Sox in 1986, when he was fired midseason by GM Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.

AJ Hinch or Alex Cora appear to be better fits for the White Sox opening, based on the description of what GM Rick Hahn said is looking for in his next manager.

Ozzie Guillén will not be returning to manage on the South Side.

The Marlins have parted ways with executive Michael Hill after 19 seasons with the organization.

The Astros are the Álex Rodríguez of baseball teams, and their window appears to be closing.

Sliding Into Home

I’m going to be writing a semi-regular column for the new Bears Insider. My first column is live now and I’ll probably do 2-3 posts per week. You may recognize the format. I hope you’ll stop by and help all of us grow that site to be what Cubs Insider is today.

Out of Left Field

Maybe it’s just me, but everything LeBron James posts to social media appears to be more about being on brand than oozing sincerity. Four years ago, he was losing his mind when the Indians tied Game 7 of the 2016 World Series on a clutch home run by Rajai Davis off of Aroldis Chapman. He’s a bandwagon Dodgers fan this year, however.

Extra Innings

Brusdar is my spirit animal.

They Said It

  • “I think it’s all about making adjustments, right? For me to be able go through a little rough patch the last two, three weeks of the season and be able to come out the other side and have what I felt like was really good at bats the last couple days.” – Ian Happ

Monday Walk Up Song

The Best by Tina Turner – For all the talk about the shortened schedule and expanded playoffs cheapening any 2020 championship, at the end of what seemed like the longest season in the game’s history, baseball’s two best teams are playing in the World Series. What a ride, folks.

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