Chicago Cubs

How the Cubs could pair Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant in 2019

How the Cubs could pair Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant in 2019

Imagine Bryce Harper smashing balls onto Sheffield Ave. and battling the tough sun in right field in afternoon games at Wrigley Field.

The 24-year-old superstar will hit free agency in a year and a half (after the 2018 season) and the bidding frenzy will be unlike anything we've ever seen before. 

So will the Cubs be in on that bidding war for Harper?

Longtime baseball writer Peter Gammons is in Chicago this weekend as part of Theo Epstein's Hot Stove Cool Music festival and Gammons hopped on 670 The Score to discuss the possibility of Harper reuniting with fellow Vegas product Kris Bryant on the North Side.

"I have people tell me that Bryce Harper really would prefer to play for the Cubs," Gammons said on the Mully and Hanley Show Friday. "Somehow, I don't think that it's gonna be affordable to see Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant on the same team. 

"It's a great idea; I'd love to see it, 'cause I respect them both so much personally and professionally. But I don't think it's ever gonna happen."

Gammons has a point. Harper is still more than a year away from free agency and there have already been reports that he and agent Scott Boras are seeking a $400 million deal. 

The New York Yankees don't have many long-term, big-money contracts left, so they'll be flush with cash for the winter of 2018-19 when maybe the best free agent class ever hits the market. And anytime the Yankees are in the mix, the price will go through the roof.

Keep in mind, too, Harper and his camp have a clear advantage to creating a link with the Cubs given that association alone will drive the price up expontentially.

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So how could the Cubs reasonably afford Harper in 2019?

It won't be easy, that's for sure. 

The Cubs currently have $71.786 million committed in 2019 to Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop's buy-out.

2019 will be Bryant's second season in arbitration and don't expect him to sign a team-friendly deal like Rizzo's given Boras is also Bryant's agent and almost always lets his players hit free agency to drive up the price on the open market.

In 2019, the Cubs will also be done with rookie contracts on a host of other guys, dealing out arbitration to Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez. (Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Carl Edwards Jr. will still be on rookie deals in 2019.)

Arbitration/rookie deals for all those guys will bring the Cubs past $100 million for 2019 — a lot of money committed to only 12 players (assuming all the guys listed so far remain a part of the picture).

That also only takes care of three pitchers, leaving nine to 10 spots on the pitching staff to allocate money to. It's worth noting Lester will be 35 in 2019.

The Cubs will need to pour a ton of resources into the pitching staff this offseason and beyond.

But then again, if the Cubs can win another World Series this year or next, it would presumably leave them entering the 2019 free agency class in a great spot financially.

By then, Wrigley Field — and the surrounding area — could also be completely finished with all the renovations, making it the premier place to play in all of baseball and certainly an attraction for free agents.

Just dreaming on it for a second: Bryant-Harper-Rizzo would be an absolutely ridiculous heart of the order that would certainly rival the Hall of Fame trio of Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo in Cubs lore.

And of course, it will be awfully difficult to find a way to retain Bryant's services once he hits free agency following the 2021 season with Harper already on the payroll, but that's another problem for another time.

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

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Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

The Cubs have parted ways with the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein's front office.

The Cubs designated Pierce Johnson for assignment last week when they purchased the contract of Jen-Ho Tseng to make his first MLB start against the New York Mets.

Now Johnson is with a new organization.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Johnson off waivers Wednesday. He was initially selected in the supplemental first round in 2012 with the 43rd pick, 37 spots behind Albert Almora Jr.

Johnson is now 26 and just made his first — and only — big-league appearance May 19 this spring.

In Triple-A Iowa, Johnson had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games, including one start. He struck out 74 batters in 54.1 innings, but also walked 27 batters and had a 1.454 WHIP. 

Johnson spent six years in the Cubs minor-league system, going 29-21 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.305 WHIP and 9.3 K/9, working slightly more than half the time as a starter (74 starts, 56 relief appearances).

With the Cubs taking Johnson off their 40-man roster in mid-September as opposed to promoting him with expanded big-league rosters, it clearly shows he was not a part of their long-term pitching plans.

Imagine Chris Archer playing for a big-market team like the Cubs

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USA TODAY

Imagine Chris Archer playing for a big-market team like the Cubs

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Picture Chris Archer performing with Wrigley Field as the backdrop – the one Joe Maddon compared to a computer-generated scene from “Gladiator” – instead of a dumpy building off Interstate 275.      

Archer could see, feel and hear the Cubs fans who took over Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, a crowd of 25,046 saluting Maddon and watching the defending World Series champs play a sharp all-around game in a 2-1 win over a Tampa Bay Rays team that has a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs now.  

“It’s weird,” Archer said after the tough-luck loss, comparing the scene to last week’s games relocated to New York in the wake of Hurricane Irma. “I didn’t know we had that many people from Chicago, Illinois, Midwest area, in Tampa, but I guess we do. It was just weird for their players to come out and get announced and get so much love. It was strange.

“It felt like we were in Citi Field playing the Yankees, honestly. I’m not being critical. It was just crazy how much royal blue there was out there. When Willson Contreras went out there to warm up the pitcher, he had a standing O.

“I’ve been here for however long – and seen some really good players come – and I’ve never seen anybody get as much love (as they did when) they ran out of the dugout to warm up.

“It was just kind of crazy.”  

Archer pitched in the Before Theo farm system, at a time when the Cubs were scrambling to try to pry their window to contend back open after winning back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. Maddon became the beneficiary when the Cubs packaged Archer – who had 13 Double-A starts on his resume at that point – in the blockbuster Matt Garza trade in January 2011.

Archer, who worked last year’s World Series as an ESPN analyst, has pitched in only two playoff games, making two relief appearances out of Maddon’s bullpen when the Boston Red Sox handled the Rays during a 2013 first-round series.   

Archer lost 19 games last season while putting up a 4.02 ERA and 200-plus innings. He earned his second All-Star selection this year and will turn 29 later this month. Wonder what the good-but-not-great numbers in 2017 – 9-11, 4.02 ERA, 32 starts, 241 strikeouts – would look like on a contender.       

“He is among the elite pitchers, there’s no question about that,” Maddon said. “I don’t watch him enough to know when he goes into these bad moments what exactly is going on. (And) I don’t even know how much certain years luck plays into it or not.

“But the thing about him in a big-city market that would intrigue me is him. He’s really bright. And he’s very socially engaged. For him to be in more of an urban kind of a setting with a greater audience, he could make quite an impact.”

Archer is locked into a team-friendly contract that will pay him roughly $14 million in 2018 and 2019 combined, plus the Rays hold bargain club options for 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million). Meaning it would take an unbelievable offer just to get Tampa Bay’s attention.

Archer is also a face of the franchise, a two-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee who visits young men and women in the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Center and stays involved with Major League Baseball’s RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

“Beyond being a pitcher who is very, very good, I would be curious if he was in a larger situation,” said Maddon, who has an offseason home and a restaurant in Tampa and sat with Archer during a Buccaneers game last season. “Just because socially, in a community, he’s already done it here. But you put him in a large city with more of an urban situation – he could really be impactful in that city. He’s really engaging when he speaks. He’s very bright. He’s really well-thought-out.”

Archer has come a long way from the Mark DeRosa salary-dump trade with the Cleveland Indians on New Year’s Eve 2008. Stan Zielinski, the beloved scout who died in January, lobbied then-general manager Jim Hendry, insisting the Cubs shouldn’t do the deal without Archer, a Class-A pitcher who went 4-8 with a 4.29 ERA that season.

While closing the Garza deal, the Rays actually pushed for another pitching prospect, but the Cubs wanted to hold onto Trey McNutt. Other players bundled in that trade became useful major-league pieces (Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld), but the headliner was supposed to be Hak-Ju Lee, a South Korean shortstop already blocked by Starlin Castro who never made it to the big leagues.    

“There was a lot of good players that came the Rays’ way at that time,” Maddon said. “I didn’t know what to expect (from Archer). I saw him in camp. Great arm. Didn’t really have a good feel for command at that time.

“But when you talked to the kid, you couldn’t help but really like him a lot. He and I connected on more of an intellectual level regarding books and stuff, because he’s really well-read. He’s a lot smarter than I’ll ever be. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him. And then all of a sudden, he started finding the plate. And that slider’s electric.”

Maddon has already seen what the Cubs brand and Chicago platform can do for his baseball legacy, bank account and off-the-field interests.

Do you want Archer back?

“I didn’t say that,” Maddon said. “That’s something I cannot (say).”