Theo Epstein and Curt Schilling had a pretty interesting exchange about Kris Bryant

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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.

Matt Shepard to be the Tigers new full-time play-by-play guy

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Fox Sports Detroit has named Matt Shepard their new full-time play-by-play guy for Tigers games. Shepard will work with analysts Jack Morris and Kirk Gibson, who will split time.

This is the move in response to former longtime announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen getting suspended and later fired following an in-booth altercation in Chicago last September. The two of them, who weren’t exactly friends, reportedly fought over a chair, with conflicting reports of how serious the fight was. An anonymous witness said Allen put Impemba in a choke hold. Allen recently gave an interview in which he denied that and said it was only some pushing and shoving. Either way, it ended their 16-year team-up for Tigers games.

Shepard has worked for Fox Sports Detroit for nearly 20 years, doing fill-in play-by-play for the Tigers — he replaced Impemba for the last few weeks of last season — and for Detroit Pistons games. Gibson has been a part time analyst for the network for the past couple of seasons, splitting time with Allen. Morris has done Tigers, Blue Jays and Twins games over the years, sometimes even splitting time between the Twins and Tigers, which is rather unusual.

Shepard is pretty good at his job. While Tigers fans liked and were familiar with Impemba, there won’t be a falloff in quality. Gibson makes some good analytical points and has a surprisingly sharp and biting sense of humor about him, but his gruff and monotone delivery is not everyone’s cup of tea. You get used to it. Morris is not my cup of tea — he tends to do a lot of the “back in my day” stuff former players often do — but I’m pretty sure he could recite the dictionary on TV in Detroit and a lot of Tigers fans would tune in. Such is life.