The beginning of September has come and gone, and with it, Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant isn't on the team's big league roster.
That's because Cubs management wants Bryant to rest up as much as possible for what President Theo Epstein told reporters should be a seven-month season for Bryant in 2015.
"He did everything he could do. He lived up to his end of the bargain," Epstein said. "I just told him the simple fact is we're not in the pennant race...It's a long season, it's a long grind, whether he realizes it or not."
Bryant hardly could have done more to earn a call-up. The power-hitting third baseman, who received USA TODAY's Minor League Player of the Year honor on Wednesday, led the minors in home runs (43), drove in 110 runs, posted OPS totals well over 1.000 in Double- and Triple-A, and even stole 15 bases in 19 attempts.
The only two blemishes on his record were 162 strikeouts in 594 plate appearances and a rather alarming 21 errors, good for a .944 fielding percentage. He'll work on fine-tuning those parts of his game when he begins the 2015 season back in Iowa.
But neither of those likely had much of any impact on the Cubs' decision to keep Bryant out of the majors this season. More likely, it was the team's interest in having their top prospect as fresh and well-rested as possible heading into next season. That, and some logistics on the business side that make a call-up next year more prudent for Epstein and the Cubs.
But some weren't too pleased with the decision, including super-agent Scott Boras, who represents Bryant.
"What’s best for the player, what’s best for the team in 2015?" Boras said, via the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "The goal here is trying to make the team the best it can be in 2015. And what can you do to ready him for that?"
Boras called baseball a "performance-driven industry" in which Bryant deserves a call-up based on his numbers. As is often the case, however, that's not quite how it works.
If the Cubs decided to call Bryant up, they would have to remove a player from the 40-man roster, thus making that player available for the Rule 5 draft this winter. Plus, keeping Bryant off the 40-man gives the Cubs more control over their future third baseman in the long run, as his service time won't officially start until he reaches the majors at whatever point next season.
The elephant in the room, however, is that the Cubs recently called up top prospects Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara. So, why not Bryant? The obvious answer is that the three call-ups have more years of experience in the minors, so their promotions this season were part of the logical progression.
But wait. Soler actually has fewer plate appearances in the minors than Bryant, and though he came from Cuba, he supposedly didn't have much experience in the Cuban League.
It doesn't just come down to sheer number of PAs, of course. Rather, it's how developed the player is and whether he's actually ready to face major league pitching. That said, I'm no professional scout, but Bryant looks about as developed at the plate as a prospect can be, minus the strikeouts. It's hard to imagine this was anything but a business decision with a look toward the future.
It's really a situation without a right answer. Call Bryant up and risk him flaming out in the stretch run of the 2015 season, all the while potentially losing a player in the Rule 5 draft. Keep him out of the majors and you might have a player woefully unprepared for his debut the following season.
Bryant himself seems to realize that the decision was out of his hands, no matter how many homers he hits this year.
"I think now more than ever, I’m realizing this game is a business, and all I can do is go out there and play as hard as I can and make it really hard on the guys in charge," Bryant said in a phone interview Tuesday with ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "I think I did that this year. If I’m taking that mindset, then I’m not really going to be sitting there with my head down at the end of the year."