Bo­ras on Bryce: It’s all hush-hush

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL BASEBALL - Paul Sul­li­van psul­li­van@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @PWSul­li­van

On base­ball

Ridicu­lous­ness has no off­sea­son in base­ball dur­ing the age of Twit­ter, as is ev­i­dent from the news gen­er­ated in last week’s gen­eral man­agers meet­ings, the un­of­fi­cial opener to the hot stove league.

The White Sox are set­ting up a stage at the United Cen­ter to an­nounce the sign­ing of Bryce Harper, while the Cubs are try­ing to trade his fel­low Las Ve­gas bro, Kris Bryant?

Re­formed provo­ca­teur Car­los Zam­brano is mount­ing a come­back at 37, while uber-agent Scott Bo­ras has run out of metaphors?

Base­ball’s retro-geek, Bill James, thinks ballplay­ers are eas­ier to re­place than beer ven­dors?

As usual, there was more to the sto­ries than could fit in a tweet or two, but that’s OK.

Bryce-o-rama: Dur­ing his well-at­tended press brief­ing at the gen­eral man­agers meet­ings, Bo­ras spoke about the teams that aren’t com­mit­ted pub­licly to the Harper sweep­stakes. Bo­ras gave one of his fa­vorite lines, say­ing it’s “not a re­gatta, it’s a sub­ma­rine race.” In other words, teams that will be in on Harper aren’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to an­nounce it to the me­dia and let oth­ers know their in­ter­est.

When in­formed of Bo­ras’ com­ment, White Sox GM Rick Hahn laughed.

“That’s our style, you know that,” Hahn said. “We tend to be un­der the radar. That fits with the sub­ma­rine, right?”

Right. Hahn later said he had not spo­ken to Bo­ras at the meet­ings and de­clined to ad­dress any Sox in­ter­est in Harper, who re­port­edly is hop­ing to sur­pass Gian­carlo Stan­ton’s record $325 mil­lion deal.

“I don’t want to go down the path of talk­ing about any free agents or in­di­vid­ual play­ers,” Hahn said. “We’ve been in con­tact with a wide variety of agents and cer­tainly other clubs since we’ve been down here, gath­ered to­gether as much in­for­ma­tion as we can, head back to Chicago and cir­cle back over the week­end and next week and hope­fully make some progress to­ward some ac­qui­si­tions.”

The next day, a photo of Harper’s name and num­ber next to the Sox logo from an LED rib­bon in­side the United Cen­ter went vi­ral. Did that mean the Sox were bring­ing Harper to town to an­nounce his sign­ing? Was a worker at the UC just trolling Sox fans? No one could say ex­actly, but the Harper sweep­stakes will take a while. The idea of Sox Chair­man Jerry Reins­dorf shelling out that kind of money for a player long­time neme­sis Bo­ras rep­re­sents seems far-fetched, as does the no­tion of Harper sign­ing with a 100-loss team.

But who knows? If the Yan­kees, Dodgers and Cubs aren’t all-in on Harper, as seems to be the case, per­haps the Sox can be the sub­ma­rine team.

Adios Bryant? Bo­ras took a beat­ing from ex­ec­u­tives for his long-winded pressers that in­cluded clever ter­mi­nol­ogy like “the Blue Flu” for Toronto’s at­ten­dance woes and “Harper’s Bazaar” for the Harper sweep­stakes.

“He re­ally needs to come up with some bet­ter metaphors,” one GM said. “I could write bet­ter ones than those.”

An­other GM said Bo­ras has “lost his fast­ball,” adding “and you guys just keep­ing eat­ing it up.”

While Bo­ras was busy spew­ing metaphor, one of his other clients, Bryant, found his way into the trade rumor mill for the first time in his four-year ca­reer when an ESPN.com re­port said the Cubs were will­ing to trade him, pos­si­bly this win­ter.

But Cubs Pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein, who said Wed­nes­day there are no “un­touch­ables,” sug­gested oth­er­wise in response.

“I an­swered a gen­eral ques­tion about whether we have un­touch­ables,” he 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.” Big Z re­turn? Don’t look now, but Zam­brano is pitch­ing again at age 37. The for­mer Cubs starter, best re­mem­bered for his volatile tem­per that led to a dugout fight with catcher Michael Bar­rett, a shout­ing match with Der­rek Lee and sev­eral crowd-pleas­ing ejec­tions at Wrigley Field, is pitch­ing for Nave­g­antes del Ma­gal­lanes in the Venezue­lan win­ter league. In 121⁄3 in­nings of work, he’s 0-2 with a 10.95 ERA.

Agent Barry Praver said Zam­brano is se­ri­ous about a re­turn to the ma­jors, though it’s a long shot. Zam­brano lost 30 pounds and looks fit­ter than he ever was dur­ing his time with the Cubs, when he of­ten flexed and bragged about “six-pack” abs. “Big Z” last pitched in the ma­jors in 2012, go­ing 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA with the Mar­lins. He spent his first 11 years with the Cubs, com­pil­ing a 125-81 record with a 3.60 ERA and 1,542 strike­outs.

Zam­brano said at the Cubs Con­ven­tion he “al­ways will be a Cub,” though it’s doubt­ful he will get a chance to at­tempt a come­back in Chicago. Does he regret his past be­hav­ior?

“God erased that,” he said in Jan­uary. “I al­ready have asked God for for­give­ness. It was part of the game and part of my de­ter­mi­na­tion to win and to get the Cubs a cham­pi­onship. So when I watched the Cubs win (in 2016), I was so proud.”

Re­venge of the nerds: Bill James made his name as a pioneer of base­ball an­a­lyt­ics, and his hand­books were mus­tread af­fairs a cou­ple decades ago. He’s now a Red Sox con­sul­tant, keep­ing his street cred long af­ter his 15 min­utes were over.

But now James looks like a bit­ter, old man, fol­low­ing an ill-ad­vised tweet last week: “If the play­ers all re­tired to­mor­row, we would re­place them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no dif­fer­ence what­so­ever. The play­ers are NOT the game, any more than the beer ven­dors are.”

Any­one who watched the re­place­ment White Sox team dur­ing the spring of 1995, when own­ers tried to break the union dur­ing the strike, knows how pa­thetic a prod­uct base­ball would be with­out the pros. The tweet even­tu­ally was deleted, but play­ers union chief Tony Clark some­how felt the need to is­sue a state­ment, say­ing “the com­ments Bill James made yes­ter­day are both reck­less and in­sult­ing con­sid­er­ing our game’s his­tory re­gard­ing the use of re­place­ment play­ers. The Play­ers ARE the game.” And blah, blah, blah.

The Red Sox then is­sued a state­ment con­firm­ing James was not a team em­ployee and “doesn’t speak” for the team or man­age­ment: “Our Cham­pi­onships would not have been pos­si­ble with­out our in­cred­i­bly talented play­ers — they are the back­bone of our fran­chise and our in­dus­try. To in­sin­u­ate oth­er­wise is ab­surd.”

Ac­tu­ally, James may not have been as in­sight­ful as his rep­u­ta­tion sug­gested. In the 2003 edi­tion of James’ “His­tor­i­cal Base­ball Ab­stract,” he pre­dicted by 2015 base­ball would solve the prob­lem of com­pet­i­tive bal­ance, “gain con­trol” of ever-length­en­ing games and that the “hun­dredyear trend of us­ing more and more pitch­ers will end,” lead­ing to more com­plete games. He also wrote “the trend to more strike­outs and more homers from the top to the bot­tom will also soon end.”

Ob­vi­ously, he’s no Nostradamus.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP

The White Sox were part of the Bryce Harper ru­mors last week, but no­body knows any­thing yet.

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