Unsurprisingly, in the wake of last night’s Anthony Rendon signing with the Angels, the rumor mill kicked back up into overdrive as it relates to the third base market, including top remaining free agent Josh Donaldson and top trade candidate Kris Bryant.
Something I find particularly fascinating? A consistent message you see right after Rendon signs? Teams have concerns X, Y, and Z about Bryant, and the Cubs are asking too much, and so on and so forth. Legit? Possibly. Or is it mostly that the market is about to pick up, and at least one team out there simply doesn’t want to meet the Cubs’ aggressive demands yet? Could it all just be the expected public negotiating you’d see when there’s a great trade target out there, but also still a free agent that many teams want?
Yeah, I tend to think it’s that one.
You’ve got Gordon Wittenmyer writing this: “Officials from two teams aggressively trying to fill third-base needs in that marketplace said the Cubs were asking too much for Bryant to seriously consider him while other options remained available — especially with a projected $40 million-$45 million due in arbitration salaries for Bryant over the next two seasons.”
And you’ve got Mark Gonzales writing this: “A source said the Rangers determined they don’t have a fit with the Cubs for a Bryant deal and will continue to concentrate their efforts on Donaldson, who also could return to the Braves. The Nationals lost out in their bid to re-sign Rendon, but another source downplayed any interest the team may have in trading for Bryant.”
And you’ve got Buster Olney tweeting this:
The game of third base musical chairs shrinks. TEX, ATL, PHI, LAD among the teams in play; Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant available, with Nolan Arenado a wildcard. Some teams are concerned about Bryant acquisition cost and his arbitration-driven salary next two years — maybe $45m.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 12, 2019
That strikes me as the kind of consistent messaging emanating from interested team(s) you would expect to see when (1) trade talks are serious, (2) the interest is very high, and (3) the price tag is also very high.
Meanwhile, Jesse Rogers writes the lengthiest take on the state of the Kris Bryant trade market, and it’s a take that you leave feeling like … does he know this is happening? That’s the vibe, and it is largely a very specific vibe attached to the Atlanta Braves. Obviously it hasn’t been hard to speculate about that connection for a good long while now, but it’s pretty hard to avoid as you read the piece.
That stands in stark contrast to Ken Rosenthal’s latest, which goes out of its way to poo-poo a Bryant-Braves trade in a section entitled “Bryant: Not necessarily a fit for Braves.” Among Rosenthal’s comments: “Bryant ranked 15th in the NL with a .903 OPS in 2019, but he has dropped from 14th to 22nd to 31st in defensive runs saved at third base the past three seasons, which is one reason the Braves and other clubs are not necessarily enamored with him at the position.”
It’s certainly true that Bryant has slid by SOME of the advanced defensive metrics, but I find it interesting that Rosenthal’s reference point is Bryant’s relative placement in DRS, not UZR/150 or Defensive Runs, metrics by which Bryant was actually better in 2019 than 2018. He is not among the better defensive third baseman in the league, but he rated as about three to four runs worse at third this past year than Rendon or Donaldson. That’s really not a huge gap, especially when you’re talking about a guy still in his 20s who would be coming for only two years.
Once again, I gotta say … feels like a team is out there doing some work.
We’ll see what happens if and when Donaldson signs, as well as when the Bryant grievance is decided. Donaldson probably comes off the board first – hopefully to the Rangers or Twins, simply for market purposes – and then it’s possible the Cubs could involve themselves in even more serious negotiations, with deals put in place pending the grievance decision. And if that’s the likely timeline here, it would make even more sense for interested/involved teams to try to throw up some roadblocks to the Cubs lofty asks.
And, of course, since it’s all subterfuge anyway, how about this? Wouldn’t Donaldson’s camp have a good reason to get concerns about Bryant out there right now, too? Hmm …