On the Block: Kris Bryant

It has become something of an accepted idea around Major League Baseball that similar to the Boston Red Sox in the American League, the Chicago Cubs will likely be this Winter’s biggest sellers in the National League. In an effort to trim down their budget as we creep towards 2020, the 2016 World Series Champs seem poised to sell off many of their marquee talents.

To that point, it could be quite easy to write this article about any number of Cubbies, save for maybe Javier Baez. Rumors have swirled about the potential for trades involving Anthony Rizzo, Wilson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, and a host of other impact talents. But none of those names are quite as big, or seemingly as likely to be dealt, as Kris Bryant.

Bryant’s displeasure with the team who resides in Wrigley, has roots far deeper than simply just them falling out of the playoffs in 2019 or their inability to spend to win at the moment. The 27-year old has a pending grievance with the Cubs, where he claims that they unjustly manipulated his service time in 2015 to delay his free agency by a year; which has been something of a common practice in Major League Baseball since the last collective bargaining agreement came into play. If Bryant wins this case, it could set the stage for many more ball players to file similar grievances with their clubs in the coming years.

Some what poetically, Bryant’s lingering service time grievance is actually preventing the Cubs from being able to trade him away at the moment. He’s upset with the team and wants out, but because it’s taking time for Major League Baseball to resolve the issue, his departure from the North Side is actually being delayed. Before any organization is ready to trade for Kris Bryant, they want to know how long they’ll have him under team control. Simply put, if the Cubs win they’ll get more for Bryant since whatever team he’s traded to will have him under control for two seasons. If Bryant wins, the Cubs will have to accept a lesser package since 2020 will be his lone guaranteed season with the new team.

That makes this article a bit trickier to write, because quite frankly a week or so away from when we’re expected to hear a final verdict, it’s hard to estimate exactly what teams will be offering. So for the sake of consistency, and to ease the minds of North Siders a bit, here are the deals that the Cubs could make for Kris Bryant, if he loses his grievance:

Texas Rangers

Cubs get: UTL Willie Calhoun, 3B Davis Wendzel, LHP Brock Burke

Why this makes sense for the Cubs: The Chicago Cubs prospect return on Kris Bryant will have to be appealing in one of two ways to justify parting ways with their home grown stud; it’ll either have to be a single top tier prospect who projects as a star, or a few prospects that provide the Cubs with versatility and depth. This trade sees the Cubs receiving the latter from Texas.

Willie Calhoun, the former top prospect of the Dodgers system, has yet to find his way into consistent playing time in Texas because of a persistent logjam at second base and left field. At first glance, the situation appears equally grim in Chicago, but that’s just temporary. Top prospect Nico Hoerner is slated to slot in at second base right now, but with Bryant relinquishing the hot corner, Hoerner’s arm could be viewed as a plus in a move to third base. Additionally, we’ve heard rumors that the Cubs are shopping their entire outfield at the moment, which means there’s a strong possibility that we see left field in particular open up since Kyle Schwarber is another likely candidate to get traded.

For their part, neither Davis Wendzel nor Brock Burke are particularly exciting prospects at the moment. But again they both provide the necessary positional flexibility for a Cubs team that needs to have that in order to operate freely in the trade market. Wendzel, who bares a striking resemblance to the Dodgers’ Justin Turner, is a natural third baseman. That’s great considering it’s about to have an immediate vacancy. But more importantly his athleticism, arm and glove work lead many scouts to believe that he can bring a positive impact at either corner outfield position, while also splitting time at either shortstop or second base to boot. Burke is viewed as a backend of the rotation guy, which is something that the Cubs could use given their current cast of oft-injured starters. But his 95+ mph fastball and command of a slider as a secondary pitch means he can transition to a big league bullpen role quite nicely.

Why this makes sense for the Rangers: The talk all Winter long has been about how the Texas Rangers would like to bring a shiny new star home to their new ballpark in Arlington. Globe Life Field is a magnificent structure, and its positioning alongside AT&T Stadium in a new entertainment district, means they’ll have the opportunity to attract tons of fans…but they’ll need the talent to do that.

To Texas’ credit they’ve established a solid rotation of perceived mid-tier talent, that they’ve used analytics to improve upon. News also broke recently that they’ll be padding that cast further with former AL Cy Young Award winner, Cory Kluber. They have a solid core of offensive talent, even in the wake of trading Nomar Mazara to the White Sox on Tuesday night. Now they just need a superstar. Their courting of Texas-native Anthony Rendon in the free agent market was well-documented, as has their talks with other third base options like Josh Donaldson; heck they’re even one of the teams who has reportedly checked in on the availability of Nolan Arenado in the past week or so.

Kris Bryant might not be quite as good as Arenado at the moment, but he also doesn’t cost nearly as much for the time being. Event with arbitration proceedings upping his salary to the $20 million range in the next two seasons, Bryant will be making about $12 million less annually. If you’re a scrappy Texas team that has already proven their competency with signing mid-tier free agents and crafting them into All-Stars, that $12 million is another crack at a starter or perhaps the backend bullpen stud they’ve longed for.

Bryant’s right-handed blend of power and contact will pair nicely with incumbent lefty-slugger Joey Gallo in the heart of that order. On the field, Gallo can transition full-time to right field without Mazara there, allowing Bryant to assume the reigns at third base and opening up a fulltime spot in left field for on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo.

Washington Nationals

Cubs get: INF Carter Kieboom, RHP Joe Ross

Why this makes sense for the Cubs: Here’s your superstar option. Scouts all around major league baseball are clamoring for the big league debut of Carter Kieboom for the reigning World Series Champions. He’s big league ready, and though he doesn’t exactly have the positional flexibility of anyone in the Rangers package above, he certainly has the big time hype to offset that.

Kieboom is a tried and true middle infielder. At either shortstop or second base, he has shown that he has the ability to make plays with his quick hands and impressive arm strength. It’ll be up to new Cubs manager David Ross to figure out the best way to play three natural shortstops (Kieboom, Hoerner, and Baez) around the infield. A positive here is that both Hoerner and Baez have already proven a great ability to man the hot corner in recent years for the Cubbies. This also sets up your infield to justifiably be your 1-3 hitters in the order for the next few years. Nico Hoerner with great speed and a knack for getting on base could serve as an ideal leadoff option, the slightly slower but stronger Carter Kieboom could follow him in the two-hole, and 2018’s RBI leader Javier Baez could round out the dynamite trio atop the Cubs’ lineup.

Additionally, the Cubs come away with Joe Ross, the rare combination of youth and big league experience packaged together. Ross no longer profiles as the front of the rotation stud that led to his call up with Washington back in June of 2015, but he still has the type of strikeout rate that excites ball clubs in today’s game. A fresh start in a new city could be just what the doctor orders for Ross as a starter, after being relegated almost exclusively to long relief duties in the Nationals bullpen for 2019. Or Chicago could choose to transition the 26 year old to a full time setup gig in the bullpen, which would make sense considering his impressive ability to make hitters miss in more condensed outings.

Why this makes sense for the Nationals: As noted above, and quite possibly by every media outlet since early November, the Washington Nationals are the reigning World Series Champions. Their historic march into the record books has come a very long way since they moved to our nation’s capital from Montreal back in 2005. After finally securing a championship in 2019, the last thing that this franchise or its fanbase is willing to do, is take a step back from the peak of contention.

They’re just re-signed Stephen Strasburg to a then-record contract, which unfortunately means they had to bow out of the Anthony Rendon sweepstakes in the days that followed. That leaves them with a massive hole in the middle of their order, once occupied by Bryce Harper and more recently Rendon. Also it means that they’ll need someone to play a majority of their games at third base, and barring Mr. National, Ryan Zimmerman returning to his longtime home at the hot corner, the Nats are going to be forced to find their solution elsewhere.

As noted in the Rangers’ case for him above, Kris Bryant comes as a much cheaper alternative than Nolan Arenado is and Rendon would’ve been. The Nationals will need to maintain as much financial flexibility as possible to fill other roster spots as they look to capitalize on their current window of contention. Bryant is a very good ballplayer who is young enough to fold into the Nats’ long term plans centered around Strasburg, Juan Soto, and Victor Robles. And if he doesn’t quite fit what they’re looking for, they can simply opt to part ways with him in free agency a year or two from now, when they’re currently slated to have one of the lowest estimated payrolls of any team in baseball.

Simply put, Bryant fits on paper in Washington, so he’s worth trading for right now. But if it doesn’t work out, you can choose not to re-sign him in a couple of years and cash in on a ton of alternative superstar options including Francisco Lindor and Christian Yelich, who’ll happily flock to D.C. to play alongside a perennial MVP candidate (Soto) and a perennial Cy Young candidate (Strasburg).

Philadelphia Phillies

Cubs get: 3B Alec Bohm, RHP Zach Eflin, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, C Rafael Marchan

Why this makes sense for the Cubs: Let’s go ahead an phrase it as such: this is the Phillies’ most modest offer for Bryant, and it is already a doozy. In this package, the Chicago Cubs would get a whole lot in the way of potential and project prospects that their franchise has had a well-documented affinity for.

Beginning with that first name on the list, Alec Bohm, profiles as a modern era must have. Bohm’s biggest tool is his bat, and more specifically his ability to blast bombs consistently. Something of a rarity for his big time power numbers, Bohm has shown impeccable plate discipline at age 23, which has limited his strikeouts through his first year and a half of minor league ball. Additionally, many scouts believe that his impressive bat speed and control will allow him to hit for an impressive average as he rises through the farms and into the majors. He’s a corner infielder with a plus arm that’s ideally suited to replace Bryant at third base, but he also has the big body (6’5, 225 lbs.) and footwork to make a fulltime move to first base should the Cubs also look to move on from Anthony Rizzo.

Zach Eflin was a long championed Philly prospect, who got blasted in his big league debut back in 2016. Since then, his inconsistent appearances in 2017 and 2018 seemed to halt his growth as the rebuilding Phils shuffled through starters endlessly. He made 38 starts in 2019 as a member of their rotation from the outset of Spring Training, and it resulted in him pulling his ERA down to a decent 4.13 mark. At just 26 years old, with three years of team control remaining, Eflin is on pace to be one of the game’s more consistent mid-rotation guys for years to come, and he’ll do so without breaking the bank.

Take everything I said about Eflin and apply it to Enyel De Los Santos, with a bit more uncertainty. The Dominican-born righty has a big question mark hanging over his future in the league. At just 24 years old, with a full 6 years of service time required before he becomes free agent eligible, he’s definitely a well-sought commodity for a cost-cutting Cubs team. At the moment, he’s a two-pitch pitcher, with a phenomenal fastball-changeup tandem that can get hitters out at any level. That’s where it ends with him however. He hasn’t yet found consistency with his breaking ball, resulting in an exorbitant ERA through his 17 career outings, and relegating him to spot starts and long relief duty on a pretty consistent basis. For the Cubs, the bullpen would be his best fit. Rather than force him to throw a pitch he’s uncomfortable with and shoehorn him into their rotation, the Cubbies can plop him into their later innings with certainty that his command of his two pitches can net them three outs in a pinch.

Why this makes sense for the Phillies: Truth be told, I gave serious consideration to just making this article about the entire NL East wanting Kris Bryant. As seen above, the Nationals now have a glaring hole at third. The Mets are featured in my Nolan Arenado piece. And sadly the Marlins still essentially need everything. But I settled on the Phillies or Braves for this final spot, and the deciding factor was ultimately Bryce Harper…again. This time though, it’s actually for a very good reason: of all teams in the market for Bryant, Bryce Harper makes the Phillies the most likely to get him to re-sign at the end of his contract.

Bryant being a Scott Boras client, just like Harper, is a huge part of why many speculate that regardless of where he lands via trade, he’s likely to test the free agent waters in search of the biggest payday possible. But his personal relationship with Harper could give them the inside track on getting him to re-up before seeing what else is out there. Harper is locked in to Philadelphia for the next 12 seasons, like it or not, so he and the Phillies will be eternally motivated to get him a running mate for the vast majority of that time. Who better to fill that role than one of his best-buds, and fellow Vegas native: Kris Bryant.

In the wake of non-tendering Maikel Franco a few weeks ago, the Phillies are without a definitive option at the hot corner heading into 2020. They signed Didi Gregorius to take over at shortstop, which frees Jean Segura up to move over a position; but the fact that they also non-tendered Cesar Hernandez leads me to believe that Segura is more likely to move to second base now. Bryant would be an ideal fit positionally with the Phils, and doubly-so when you take a gander at their lineup.

The Phillies’ projected lineup, now featuring Didi Gregorius and potentially Kris Bryant, looks something like this:

  1. Jean Segura, 2B
  2. J.T. Realmuto, C
  3. Bryce Harper, RF
  4. Kris Bryant, 3B
  5. Didi Gregorius, SS
  6. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  7. Andrew McCutchen, LF
  8. Scott Kingery, CF
  9. Pitcher

Remove Bryant, and the Phils would be forced to bat Hoskins in the cleanup spot to avoid the dreaded back-to-back lefty hitters in their order with Didi and Harper. And I’m unsure of who else they could consistently plug into the lineup.

The Phils would still need bullpen help to contend for the NL East in the 2020 season, but adding Bryant would at least mean that they could blast opposing teams until they have a lead that their pitching staff could maintain more often than not.

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