CHICAGO (AP) — If Kris Bryant knows anything about where Bryce Harper is going in free agency, he is staying quiet for the moment.
Bryant does know at least one thing that should delight fans of the Chicago Cubs.
“The shoulder is perfectly healed. Feels great,” Bryant said. “Everything about it feels right back to where I was before.”
A healthy Bryant could go a long way to helping erase the sting of a disappointing finish to last season. Chicago blew a five-game lead in the NL Central in September, lost to Milwaukee in a tiebreaker for the division title and then was eliminated by Colorado in the NL wild-card game.
Bryant and company had to watch as the Brewers and Rockies celebrated on consecutive October days at Wrigley Field.
“It’s kind of good for us to go through that, get our teeth kicked in a little bit on our field, game 163 and then the wild-card game,” Bryant said Friday on the first day of the Cubs’ annual fan convention.
“I think ultimately we’ll all learn from it, and yeah, come out with a chip on our shoulder definitely.”
Bryant was working on another good season last year before he made two trips to the disabled list because of inflammation in his left shoulder. The 2016 NL MVP finished with career lows in games played (102), batting average (.272), home runs (13) and RBIs (52).
“There was a lot going on,” Bryant said. “It was just kind of hard to get it to heal when you take a week off and it’s like ‘OK you’re feeling better let’s see what you do with some swings,’ rather than the offseason, you kind of dedicate a whole two months to just working out and getting it stronger and kind of letting everything settle down.
“I think that’s what I really needed.”
When Bryant is on top of his game, he remains one of the majors’ most dangerous hitters. He hit .292 with 39 homers and 102 RBIs three years ago, helping the Cubs win the World Series for the first time since 1908.
Center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said Bryant “grew a lot as a person and as a teammate” last year.
“Being hurt, having to be there for the boys when he’s limited on the field, was tough for him, but I think he handled it very well,” Almora said.
While Bryant was in and out of the lineup, Chicago still finished fourth in the NL with 761 runs. But it had one or zero runs in 39 regular-season games. It managed just two runs over 22 innings in its final two games of the year.
Cubs fans had hoped the team might address its inconsistent offense with a blockbuster contract for Harper, but it doesn’t sound as if the team has room for such a deal in its budget.
Bryant hangs out with Harper in the offseason sometimes, but he said the Las Vegas natives don’t talk about baseball very much. The quiet winter for the Cubs is just fine with him, too.
“Honestly, I understand some of the fan frustration, but as a player that feels pretty good knowing that your owner and your president and GM all trust the team that we have,” Bryant said. “That means something to us.”
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