Yesterday was something of a double-whammy as it relates to a hypothetical future where the Chicago Cubs try to extend star third baseman Kris Bryant, who is otherwise set to be a free agent after 2021.
First, you had Bryant speaking out about service time shenanigans, something he, himself, was subjected to in his rookie year with the Cubs. Some folks still sense acrimony there, and wonder whether it dampens any chance the Cubs have at extending Bryant.
Then, you had the Rockies locking down Nolan Arenado to a monster eight-year extension, the foundation of which could easily serve as a comp for any Bryant talks. With the deal, Arenado – who was a year away from free agency and already set to make nearly $30 million this year – nets $32.5 million annually, a record for position players. He also gets a full no-trade clause, AND an opt-out after just three years (not coincidentally after the new CBA kicks in and the landscape may have changed).
It made for a very natural time to check back in on the topic of extending Bryant, something not seriously discussed since last year when those rumors about a rejected $200 million extension were floated. Is it really true that Bryant categorically wouldn’t entertain an extension with the Cubs? Could he really justify declining an extension of the magnitude secured by Arenado? Does it really matter that Scott Boras is Bryant’s agent at a time when getting a monster extension seems like a better bet than trying out free agency in three years?
Dispensing with what should be obvious: Bryant has confirmed that, yes, he would be open to an extension with the Cubs (Levine). It doesn’t sound like it’s actively under discussion, but if the money was right, why wouldn’t Bryant consider it? Adding to that, Bryant spoke with ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, who reported on the radio that Bryant sounded impressed by Arenado’s deal (eight years, $260 million, opt out after the third year), and suggested that – again, his impression – Bryant could be open to that caliber of deal, and it wouldn’t be the case that Scott Boras would (or could) shut things down if Bryant wanted to talk.
Ultimately, how much have we really learned here? I’m not sure all that much. Arenado’s deal with the Rockies is a very, very strong one for the player. If the Cubs offered Bryant that kind of deal, I just can’t fathom a good reason for turning it down at this point (especially for Bryant, who is three years from free agency, rather than Arenado’s one (indeed, you’d obviously have to rework some of the particulars to account for that)).
And if Bryant wants to slightly beat Arenado’s deal? Something he’d have a legitimate argument for?
I still sense it’s going to be difficult for these two sides to get together on an extension, especially right now coming off a down/injured year for Bryant. That necessarily adds a layer of risk from the Cubs’ perspective, and a layer of I-can-still-rake-so-I’m-not-taking-less upside from Bryant’s perspective. There is also the reality that Bryant is already under control for his age 27, 28, and 29 seasons. Any extension is therefore necessarily going to be buying out seasons in Bryant’s 30s. Can he still be awesome well into his 30s? Of course! But we all know the aging curves, and that is going to be a factor when compared against Arenado, who was going to reach free agency after his age 28 season.
It’s good to know that Bryant is open to extension talks, and maybe the sides will engage at some point again. I tend to think it’s far more likely that the Cubs will extend other players before Bryant – not because they don’t love Bryant or believe he is the most impactful player on the roster, but instead because of certain pragmatic and logistical realities.
I think all of us would love to see Kris Bryant play his entire career with the Cubs, but it may require him playing through arbitration for a couple more years, and then seeing where things stand – like Arenado – when he’s a year away from free agency.
There will also be more information on the state of the game, financially, at that point. And there may also be another star third baseman – and Scott Boras client – getting a deal to use as a comparison in Anthony Rendon, who is otherwise a free agent after this season.