There’s nothing hot and heavy on the Kris Bryant trade front right now while the service time grievance is decided by an arbitrator – a decision that might still take multiple more weeks – but there is a rumor coming out of Atlanta that I think definitely merits some discussion today.
Various grains of salt are necessary here, as you would take them with any talk radio report. That is to not say that sports talk radio personalities don’t have inside information – sometimes they do! – but the threshold for chatting about a rumor on your show has always been lower than, for example, what a national baseball reporter would put out there. The sourcing and the layers of vetting are simply different.
Still, this is so very specific – and coming out of Atlanta from a guest who was brought on specifically to talk Braves hot stove – that it’s worth sharing here, with all appropriate caveats, for our discussion:
@ESPNChiCubs @BleacherNation Atlanta’s Paul Crane talking about potential Braves – Cubs Kris Bryant trade. Full interview below. I find this interesting he mentions specific names the Cubs would want. Thoughts? pic.twitter.com/RmBt9J3Qcg
— AllStuffGamblin (@AllStuffGamblin) December 25, 2019
As Paul Crane says, he’s been told – by an Atlanta source, I would presume? – that, pending Bryant losing his service time grievance, the Cubs have shown “great interest in the Braves’ minor leagues,” and the Cubs have “already told the Braves” they would make a trade with the Braves for Bryant if they could get any three of these four: RHP Ian Anderson, OF/3B Austin Riley, OF Drew Waters, and RHP Kyle Wright.
(Note that Crane, by his public presence, seems to be more of a football guy than a baseball guy, though I suppose that could cut both ways – maybe that means he has no idea what he’s talking about at all, or maybe it means he’s more likely to pass on specific names that he hears, since he’s not really able to concoct them himself. Especially when it looks, on its face, to be a pretty plausible rumor.)
If the Cubs were looking primarily at prospects in a Bryant trade, the Braves would obviously be the best fit for a trade partner, and these are certainly among the top-ranked names they’d be looking at. But it’s very interesting to me that these four names, specifically, are listed, when it’s not as if it’s just someone grabbing the top four prospects off of a list. For one thing, top prospect Cristian Pache is not mentioned (why wouldn’t the Cubs want him included, unless they knew that just wasn’t going to happen?). For another, why Austin Riley, and not a true prospect? Why Kyle Wright (only some big league service) and not a young big league arm like Max Fried or Sean Newcomb?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the Cubs would be obviously mistaken to target those four particular names. I’m saying only that, as an outsider, I wouldn’t necessarily immediately point to those four … which makes me kinda wonder if there’s a little veracity here.
Could this kind of trade actually happen? Well, it would certainly be an on-paper haul for the Cubs, of the kind you’d expect them to get if they were going to part with two years of Kris Bryant at this juncture. So, yes, this *kind* of trade could happen.
- Anderson, the number three overall pick in 2016, has already dominated at AA in his age 20 season, and is a consensus top 30 prospect in baseball. I get the sense that he’ll be much higher when the new rankings come out at the end of the offseason. He’s a stud – the kind of pitching prospect the Cubs haven’t had in a very long time.
- Waters, the 41st overall pick in 2017, reached AAA in just his second full pro season at age 20, and he’s also a consensus top 30 prospect. He’s got a lot of speed and great outfield defense, but his strikeout rate at AAA went through the roof. I guess I can cut him some slack given his age and inexperience, though. Loads to like as a potential center fielder of the future.
- Wright, who just turned 24, was the 5th overall pick in 2017, and got a cup of coffee in the big leagues in just his first full professional season. He’s a consensus top 40 prospect in the game, and is likely big-league ready.
- And then there’s Riley, who was a consensus top 40 prospect in the game until he graduated this past year, as a 22-year-old big leaguer. You may recall that he started off crazy hot, but the league quickly found his holes, and he was a disaster (40+% strikeout rate) by his second month. I’m not sure that’d be a reason not to want him, as many top young players go through that process in their early 20s, especially when they are huge swing-and-miss-but-hit-the-shit-out-of-the-ball types like Riley.
Three of those four in exchange for two arbitration years of a player like Bryant? Yes, on paper, that does seem like an equitable swap.
But … do we actually buy any of this as a serious rumor?
Well, like I said, there’s an air of plausibility here. I think I’ve developed a pretty good BS detector for rumors over the years, and although most rumors are exactly that, the names in this one – given the context and the circumstances of the two teams – mentally fit for me. I could see the Braves pushing Riley, since they wouldn’t have a spot for him, and I could see the Cubs pushing for Waters (given the long-term need) and near-big-league-ready pitching prospects rather than established arms, if they’re punting on 2020 anyway.
In a world where the Cubs landed one three of these four (especially if Anderson were included), it’s not at all hard to imagine that, for what they would lose in 2020, the Cubs could actually be much better in 2021 (and much, much better positioned in 2022+, when they might have no longer had Bryant anyway). Yes, I can see this from the Cubs’ perspective, particularly if they believe it is necessary to take a “step back” in 2020, and if they believe they won’t sign Bryant to an extension no matter what.
That is to say, yes, I could see these being real conversations between the teams, and yes, I could see it being real that the Cubs – pending the service time grievance and pending Josh Donaldson’s free agent decision – would want three of these four players. I could also see the Braves, wanting to max out over the next two years, being willing to move guys from this group because of organizational redundancy (ah, remember what it was like to have an absolutely loaded farm system?). I’m not saying they’d definitely do it, and I’m not sure they would include Anderson in any case, but again, I’m just saying, this has an air of plausibility to it. That’s the phrase I land on.
Much like when the Braves first came onto the radar as a Bryant suitor, there’s just a sense of a “fit” here. I can’t say I know anything special about this particular rumor. I don’t. But, on its face, it makes sense.
I guess we’ll see what happens when Donaldson signs, and/or when Bryant’s grievance comes to a conclusion.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.