Cubs president Theo Epstein was in the ESPN booth for a Cubs spring training game yesterday when Curt Schilling — back on broadcast duties this year, it’s good to note — challenged him regarding Kris Bryant’s presumably imminent demotion to the minor leagues.
You know and I know that, in all likelihood, this is a service time play. Curt Schilling knows it too. So when he asked his questions, he put himself in the role of a player who has seen this stuff before. Specifically, he asked Epstein if can honestly tell the players in the clubhouse that, without Bryant, the 25 best Chicago Cubs players are heading north with the team.
Epstein, however, had a pretty good baseball answer. At the very least one that, should Scott Boras or the union do what some have suggested they do and file a grievance over Bryant not breaking camp with the Cubs, will absolutely end their case before it begins. You don’t have to buy it, but you can bet all of your worldly possessions that an arbitrator would.
The answer: a long, long list of Red Sox players who, while clearly among the most 25-talented players in the organization at the time, did not begin the season with the Sox because Epstein likes to give such players extra seasoning in the minors and prefers to give promising young players their debut after the season has began.
Hanley Ramirez and Clay Buchholz, each of whom Epstein says tore it up during spring training, yet still went back down to Pawtucket. Dustin Pedroia. Jacoby Ellsbury were also name-checked. Epstein says that he can’t recall ever starting a rookie in the bigs on Opening Day. In a world where precedent is everything, that precedent would get the union laughed out of the room.
But, much to Curt Schilling’s credit, he didn’t just accept that answer. He poked straight to the heart of it with the equivalent of a “c’mon, the real explanation here is that it’s a business decision, right?” It was a followup Epstein dodged — not a bad dodge, but a dodge all the same — but one that I liked to see from Schilling and which you rarely, rarely see from broadcasters who have a guest in the booth with them. Especially a big time one like Theo Epstein. It’s normally softball city with no attempt to challenge anyone on their answers.
Watch the whole exchange:
To sum up: for all of the sturm und drang about Kris Bryant, there is literally no way whatsoever anyone gets any traction with a grievance here. Indeed, there’s no way anyone can make a case that this is even unusual. Espstein just nailed that to the wall.
Still, good to see Schilling with the “I-don’t-give-a-crap, be honest with me” follow up here. It makes pretty good use of his strengths — his former ballplayer status allowed him to ask this in a way most reporters can’t and his outspoken nature allowed him to cut to the chase — even if those strengths sometimes can be insufferable in other settings. And suggests that maybe — just maybe — ESPN broadcasts with him in the booth could have less fluff and a little bit more bite than they’ve had in the past.