"We've never operated with untouchables," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at the general manager meetings earlier this week, per Olney. "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?"
However, Epstein offered a follow-up that makes the Cubs sound less eager to move on from their stars.
"I answered a general question about whether we have untouchables," the Cubs president said, per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. "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."
Bryant is under club control through the 2021 season.
The 26-year-old is coming off his worst season as a Cub, hitting .272/.374/.460 with 13 home runs, 28 doubles and 52 RBI. He was limited to 102 games as he dealt with shoulder inflammation throughout the summer. It marked the first time he landed on the disabled list in his four-year career.
He was able to work his way back onto the field for the stretch run, helping Chicago earn a wild-card berth. The slugger couldn't come through for his team in October, though. He went 0-for-2 with a walk in a 3-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in a one-game playoff for the National League Central title, and he went 1-for-6 with three strikeouts in an extra-inning loss to the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game.
There was plenty of blame to go around on offense in October. But after regressing in the two seasons following their World Series championship in 2016, the Cubs might be looking to make changes to put themselves in better position for 2019.
Chicago may be willing to listen to offers, as Olney notes, but it would take quite the haul to get Bryant out of the Windy City. This is a player who nabbed a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award and a World Series all within his first two seasons. Prior to this past season, he had received MVP votes in all three of his years in the big leagues.
Not to mention the fact that he can't hit free agency for three more seasons.
Ultimately, though, it's a business. The Cubs have to do what they feel is best for the organization—as they did when they manipulated his service time prior to calling him up in 2015.
Jon Heyman reported for FanRag Sports in June 2017 (h/t SB Nation) that Bryant turned down an extension without even presenting a counteroffer. Bryant had told the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer in May 2017 that he wasn't looking to make a long-term commitment at that point.
"I guess it's a little early," Bryant told Wittenmyer. "I still feel super-young. I'm still getting used to all of this playing at this level. I'll listen to whatever they have to say, but I just think that it might be in my best interest to just play it out and see where things go."
Olney added that the Cubs made a "significant" offer last year, but talks have not gone anywhere. Bryant and agent Scott Boras filed a grievance in 2015 over the way the franchise handled his initial promotion. That situation could be playing a factor in his decision not to sign an extension.
If the Cubs get the vibe that Bryant will leave via free agency when the time comes, they would have to explore all options. It's not clear how likely a trade might be this winter, but the team is reportedly at least going to field offers. If there's an offer that's too good to refuse, Bryant could be wearing a different uniform next season.