Good morning! Are you ready for another day of wondering about whether the Cubs will be willing and able to trade a superstar player for a return that dramatically helps them in 2022 and beyond without so dramatically hurting them in 2020 and 2021 that it makes you sick?
Sahadev Sharma’s latest on the Cubs’ current positioning is heavy on Kris Bryant trade rumors, adding quite a bit more to Ken Rosenthal’s reporting last night, which we discussed here. The short version there is that Rosenthal’s setup sure had a “when” a trade happens, rather than “if,” and Sharma’s piece certainly travels in that same territory – though he does acknowledge the reality that actually getting what you want in return for such a major piece is no easy feat. It might not happen.
‘It’s complicated.’ Nothing is simple about the Cubs offseason and their plans for Kris Bryant https://t.co/enc4HzA6Rc
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) December 10, 2019
Like Rosenthal, Sharma reports that the Cubs appear to be waiting out the Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson free agent markets. “Wherever those two players land, the Cubs hope to be able to market Bryant to the teams that have been left out.”
That, again, doesn’t mean a trade is inevitable, but it sure does suggest very aggressive trade talks are indeed inevitable one the service time grievance is resolved (Theo Epstein said last night that the Cubs are proceding as though the outcome they expect will happen – two years of control – will eventually happen).
As we already have been, we’ll have to keep monitoring the Rendon and Donaldson markets closely, and hoping that neither one winds up with a preferred trade partner (i.e., stay away Braves and Dodgers).
Meanwhile, even as that free agent market plays out, at least two NL teams are now being reported as having checked in on Bryant with the Cubs: the Nationals (per Jon Morosi) and the Phillies (per Bruce Levine). The Nationals are expected to lose Anthony Rendon at this point, and the Phillies are trying desperately to add impact pieces all over to stop floundering around .500.
It’s not much of a surprise to learn about a couple teams that have holes at third base checking in on Bryant, but it is notable that the two teams are division rivals of another club we know will have interest in Bryant if they don’t retain Josh Donaldson, the Braves. If the Cubs are keen on finding out what the best possible offer is out there for Bryant, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to pit three divisional foes against each other.
We know that the Braves are a great theoretical fit in trade, but what about the Phillies and Nationals?
With the Phillies, the question is whether they’re willing to talk about their top 100 prospect types, in righty Spencer Howard and third baseman Alec Bohm. And even if they are willing, are the Cubs looking to take on a pure prospect return in a deal for Bryant? Bohm is expected to have a big league stick, but he barely has any pro experience (3rd overall pick in 2018), and barely 60 games at AA. Howard (2nd rounder in 2017) has made just six starts at the AA level. These are prospects. Good prospects. But not necessarily big-league-ready pieces that would impact the 2020 drop-off from losing Bryant.
Moreover, the Phillies aren’t exactly overloaded with big league or big-league ready pitching that would entice the Cubs in a move like this. Maybe the Cubs would want to get really creative and try to work in a bigger deal that involves a Major League position player (and maybe more coming from the Cubs, too), but you can twist yourself in knots trying to speculate on enormous deals like that. Could it be done? Oh, probably. Would a version make sense for both sides? Oh, maybe. But if we’re just looking at pieces the Phillies could/would trade for Bryant, you have to talk about Bohm and Howard, and I don’t know if either side would be all about that.
As for the Nationals, you’re going to run into some of the same problems, without obvious big league or big-league-ready players they’d be into moving for Bryant – like, they aren’t going to move center fielder Victor Robles in a deal like that, as much as you might wish they would. Carter Kieboom is a stud middle infield prospect and is big-league ready, but the Nationals are expected to turn second base over to him this year – and if they’re taking on a salary like Bryant’s to go deep into the luxury tax, you have to (realistically) figure they otherwise want to keep all their pre-arb players who can start. So Robles and Kieboom are probably off-limits, even though those are two of the most obvious guys you’d want the Cubs to target.
On the prospecting side, the Nationals have some interesting guys, but it’s really hard to see a headliner for Bryant. A lot of warts among their top prospects, most of whom are lower-level. Tough fit. Very tough fit.
None of that is to say there’s not a version of a deal with the Nationals – or Phillies, as I said – that could work. I’m generally in the camp that most players in baseball could be traded to most teams. But for Bryant, one of the most impactful players in baseball (why do I feel like some keep forgetting that fact?), the Cubs cannot rely on a volume return. They need impact, and mostly near-term impact, not only because of their own competitiveness in 2020 and 2021, but also because near-term impact tends to be the most certain impact.
Let’s just see Anthony Rendon go to the Rangers, and then Donaldson to the Nationals. That sounds like it would open up the best market to the Cubs to give them a chance to get a seriously impactful return from the Dodgers, Braves, or Phillies (or a surprise team like the Padres or Angels) … *IF* they wind up trading Bryant at all.