At the outset of something like this, I have to delicately acknowledge the yin and yang truths of rumors like this: on the one hand, it is significant enough (in name, in value, in roster reshaping, in organization transforming) that you absolutely have to discuss it; on the other hand, it’s kind of an “well of course they would listen” situation.
On to the discussion, which is only that: a discussion.
Jeff Passan today dropped a boatload of interesting bits in a column at ESPN that is going to be worth your time:
In a little more than two months, MLB free agency begins. And trade talks heat up. And extension season follows.
Here is everything you need to know about it all: the biggest names, the biggest dollars, true stars who could be on the block and much more: https://t.co/Je10BjMELt
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 28, 2019
In addition to a Javy Baez extension discussion that we’ll get to shortly, the biggest nugget by far dropped by Passan is this one:
“Oh, and a number of executives are expecting monster names to be in trade talks.
Wait. Did you say monster names?
Are Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant monster enough?
Yup. Now, this does not mean all three — or even any of the three — will be traded. But in preparing for this winter, rival executives believe the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs are willing to at very least listen on their stars.
This is nothing new for any of the three organizations. All are successful in part because they have no sacred cows, because they explore all avenues to winning, because to dismiss an idea outright is antithetical to teams that pride themselves on curiosity and creativity.”
We’ve heard about the Red Sox’s possible interest in moving Betts, and it has always been the case that Lindor would be traded if he wasn’t extended, so it’s kind of wild to see Bryant now included as part of that trio.
Even as the Cubs clearly have to make significant moves this offseason – as we’ve discussed – would they seriously entertain trading a guy like Bryant? A guy whose production dwarfs that which they could get from anyone else internally?
Here’s how Passan puts it:
“Bryant is the wild card. A not-uncommon feeling inside the Cubs organization is the need for a big shake-up. Perhaps Maddon leaving would provide that. The sentiment among some extends to the players too. And with Javier Baez a reasonable bet to stick around — more on that later — and Bryant a Boras client more prone to testing free agency, the Cubs may see him as a combination of Betts and Lindor: a star with two years of control primed to hold out for free agency but capable beforehand of enriching a farm system in desperate need of help after years of dealing away its most valuable pieces.”
While I wouldn’t quite put it exactly in those terms, I do think it’s fair to say that Bryant’s unique situation – namely, that he’s a superstar who has always seemed destined to hit free agency rather than extend – leaves the Cubs in a position to at least consider whether they could deal Bryant now for long-term pieces, and then bridge the gap with other players who may not be an enormous step down. Let teams talk to you about it. You never know what it produces.
JUST FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION: if the Cubs knew, for example, that they could land Anthony Rendon in free agency, then they would be in a position to get Rendon on a long-term deal (lateral performance from Bryant), and also get a huge haul of young talent to extend this window.
The flip side of that hypothetical should be obvious: there are no guarantees in free agency, and a guy like Rendon is far from a lock to join the Cubs. Whatever you’d get for Bryant in trade is no lock to actually help you, and the pool of trade partners that would want two years of Bryant – at relatively pricey arbitration levels – and would be willing to give up a haul of prospects/young talent in return, is probably pretty small. That’s why guys like Bryant are almost never traded from a contender to a contender.
I won’t try to tell anyone that I’m not of the mind a significant roster shakeup is necessary. Obviously I’ve said it (we said it last year), and I still stand by it. But I would at least caution that guys like Bryant are rare. Trading him – and the ensuing roster moves – would be a significant shakeup, I’ll grant you that. But doing it creates serious risk to 2020 and 2021, when the Cubs still have the best years of Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, etc. available.
If you’re going to risk disrupting any of that by listening to offers for Kris Bryant, you better be VERY SURE you can replace his 90+ percent of his production with some kind of other external addition.