DENVER — Pack a suitcase and go. Like, immediately.
That’s all any major leaguer who is traded in-season can do. That’s all Kris Bryant will get to do if he’s dealt by the Cubs before the July 30 trade deadline. And that won’t sit well with a sentimental superstar who deserves, if nothing else, time for proper goodbyes.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I’ve thought about it just because of the rumors that are out there.”
Rumors? They’re more than rumors. The below-.500 Cubs have some heavy-hitter pending free agents in their lineup, and Bryant, 29, is the biggest name in the bunch. He sat in full uniform Monday at a media event on a promenade across the street from Coors Field and faced hardly any questions about the fourth All-Star Game appearance he’ll make Tuesday. Instead, he baked in 90-degree heat and addressed the end that likely is coming.
Chances are, during those 45 minutes, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer spoke with at least one potential trade partner about the former MVP. That’s just cold, hard reality.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Bryant said. “If it does happen, whatever team I do go to is going to get a guy that’s going to go out there and give it all he’s got, play wherever they need me to play, be a good person and good teammate and [just] play baseball. That’s all I can do.”
What he won’t be able to do is meet such a weighty moment with fitting goodbyes to teammates, to fans, to Wrigley Field, to Chicago — the place where he says he “grew up.”
“I look at pictures from 2015 to now and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m such a different person,’ ” he said. “And I’m proud of the person I’ve become wearing this uniform.”
The person he has always been isn’t the pack-up-and-scram type. The abruptness of an in-season trade just isn’t his speed or style. Goodbye? That might be the biggest, hardest word of them all. So why wait?
“Whenever my time is done playing for the Cubs, whether I retire here or not, I certainly hope to go out with just representing who I am, just a good person, and with class, keeping my head high,” he said. “And realizing whether it’s one World Series or four or five more, whatever we did here was special. When I’m done playing this game, I can look back on however long I spent in this uniform and be very proud of it.”
When Bryant was a rookie in 2015 and making a splash so big he’d win Rookie of the Year, veterans would tell him things would only get easier from there. And they did in 2016, when he was MVP and the Cubs busted all their ghosts. Bryant was arguably even better in 2017, but we would all agree his ascent as a hitter hasn’t continued in the time since.
What ramped up instead was criticism — mostly by fans of the team — of his physical toughness, his mental toughness, his performance in the clutch. Nobody picks nits quite like spoiled fans on social media.
“It really doesn’t get easier,” he said. “Because you have a good year, you have a couple of good years, then there’s expectations. You win a World Series, then there’s more expectations and you keep [trying to] climb that mountaintop. And it’s not going to get easier. You just find better ways to handle the expectations, and I think that’s where I’m at.”
The Bryant of a few years back was stung by criticism and had a hard time getting un-stung. By the end of the abbreviated 2020 campaign — a miserable one for Bryant — he was done with all that. As he famously put it after the playoff loss to the Marlins, “I don’t give a [expletive].”
If being hurt by criticism is at one end of the scale and not giving a blank is at the other, Bryant figures he isn’t even on the scale anymore.
“I’m just at a different point of life where I feel I’m a little more mature and things don’t get to me as much,” he said.
Instead, he is lightening his own load. Appreciating his accomplishments rather than beating himself up. Looking forward to his future while savoring all the Cubs moments he has left.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “if you get traded, you get traded. If you don’t, I’m with an unbelievable organization still, a city and team that has meant so much to me, so I’m in a good spot. And I’m playing baseball for a living and having a great time doing it. I’m at the All-Star Game right now for a fourth time. If you told me this when I was getting drafted — if you told me I’d make it one time — I would’ve been unbelievably proud.”
He might not have believed the end of his Cubs journey would be staring him in the face, too.
If there’s one thing he’d like everyone to know before it’s too late, what is it?
A pause. A wave of sentiment. A glance down at his jersey.
“Any time I put the pinstripes on,” he said, “it’s a huge honor for me.”