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No, Kris Bryant isn’t going to be traded. But the ‘report’ raises a larger question

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... on how quotes from baseball executives can be taken out of context.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Theo Epstein generally doesn’t talk to the media. He usually makes some remarks at the beginning of every season, then has a season-ending news conference, and in between... not much, except perhaps when a major free-agent signing or trade is made.

But MLB team executives got together in California this past week for meetings, and media members covered those meetings, and one of them asked Theo a question about “untouchables”:

“We’ve never operated with untouchables,” he said. “It sends the wrong message. Given what we’re trying to accomplish, it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them. I just don’t believe in untouchables. Why limit yourself?”

That’s a perfectly reasonable answer to a perfectly reasonable question.

The only problem is that the article linked above didn’t have a headline about untouchables.

Instead, it screamed out:

Cubs open to trading 3B Kris Bryant

And yes, I put that in big letters and boldface for a reason. It’s clickbait. You’re a Cubs fan. You’d read that article if you saw that headline on ESPN.com (where it was posted) or if you saw a tweet that had that in it, right?

So what happened was that this headline drove a day or so’s worth of breathless commentary like this through Cubs fans: ZOMG THEY’RE NOT TRADING KB ARE THEY HOW STUPID WOULD THAT BE ZOMG!!!

It got so bad that Theo had to talk to the media yet again:

While anything can happen, Epstein on Friday downplayed the rumor that Bryant was available via trade.

“I answered a general question about whether we have untouchables,” the Cubs president said. “Like most every organization, we will listen to anything, but that’s just an operating philosophy.

“We are lucky to have some impact players and we are looking to add to them, not subtract.”

Kris Bryant had a down season in 2018, mostly due to a shoulder injury that limited him to 102 games and 457 plate appearances. Even so, he hit 13 home runs and produced 1.9 bWAR, not terrible for a guy who a) missed all that time and b) was slowed by the shoulder injury for much of the time that he was on the field.

But Bryant enters 2019 at age 27, perhaps on the cusp of having his best big-league seasons over the next three years, after which he will qualify for free agency. You’ve heard teams talk about “addition by subtraction”? Trading Bryant would be “subtraction by subtraction.” There’s almost no deal that would include him that would actually benefit the Cubs. (Well, unless you’re going to get Mike Trout in return, which you are probably not.)

In summary, all of this was:

  • A trade rumor that wasn’t really even a trade rumor, and
  • Something that, if it actually happened, wouldn’t likely be good for the Cubs.

You can see why Theo Epstein doesn’t like talking to the media.

And that’s why I didn’t post anything about this over the last couple of days, but I did think it was worth addressing now — not for the baseball side of it, but for the media side. It’s almost irresponsible for ESPN.com to do what they did, take a general comment by Theo out of context and make it seem as if the Cubs are going to trade one of their best players. Which they almost certainly are not.

I’ll give the last word here to Anthony Rizzo: