Season-long baseball fans may recall the hot topic as spring training came to a close some 6 months ago and clubs made their way north for the summer: whether the Cubs were justified in sending Kris Bryant to AAA to start the season (despite a Cactus League performance that suggested he belonged in Chicago). As baseball’s arbitration-eligibility & free agency rules are currently constituted, by calling him up no sooner than April 17, Bryant wouldn’t accumulate a full year of service time until next season, meaning he becomes arbitration-eligible one year later than had he debuted against the Cardinals on April 5 (or any other game before the 17th), and he also becomes a free agent one year later. The general consensus at the time seemed to be, “sure he’s good, but the Cubs probably won’t contend this year, so it’s safe to trade 3 series in April for a whole season if he’s going to be as good as we think he is.” That and, any time you can stick it to Scott Boras (his agent), good for you.
Of course, that was before the Cubs stayed in contention for the division and/or wild card in to May, June, July, etc. Now you wonder whether the Cubs would like to have those 8 games without him back to do over. After all, they finished a measly game behind the Pirates for the NL Wild Card; identical records would have resulted in using head-to-head record, which the Cubs won, as the tie-breaker. Sure, the Pirates didn’t get off to a great start over that first week and a half (3-6 against Cincinnati, Milwaukee, & Detroit), but baseball is filled with “maybe” scenarios.
Maybe Bryant starts game 1 at home against St. Louis, and still comes within one strikeout of the ol’ golden sombrero in his debut, and the Cardinals still win.
But, given how quickly he rebounded from that ignominious beginning, maybe the Cubs sweep the Reds instead of only taking 2 of 3 in the series prior to April 17. On April 14, the Cubs lost 3-2; using the “RE24” metric, the Cubs’ two third basemen to play that game cost them 0.9 runs. Perhaps Bryant could have made up that difference and then some?
And maybe, on April 17, the Cubs defeat the San Diego Padres in Bryant’s 9th game of the season, getting the team to 6-3 (or 7-2, with the aforementioned hypothetical win over the Reds). In that game, Bryant’s actual debut, the Cubs lost 5-4 with the start rookie costing them 1.6 runs—certainly good enough for a win had he played even passably well. Maybe in the bottom of the 5th, with 1 out and Jorge Soler and Anthony Rizzo on third and second, respectively, he manages to drive one or both in. And maybe in the bottom of the 7th, with 2 out, Dexter Fowler at second, and Rizzo at first, he doesn’t ground out to third to end the inning.
And, though it’s a bit of a stretch, maybe they start hot enough that they actually pass the Pirates & run down the Cardinals to bypass this whole Wild Card mess.
For a franchise whose postseason history has a handful of “maybes” of its own, you wonder if this’ll be yet another one.