With an increasing public “sense” – if you can wrap your arms around such a thing and make declarations – that the Cubs *are* going to trade Kris Bryant eventually, it was inevitable that we’d see pushback against that idea sooner rather than later.
It doesn’t help the Cubs in any way to have it out there that they’re definitely going to trade their generational superstar, even as everyone expects them to strongly consider doing so. The whole conversation can fray already-frayed relations, it can create a greatly weakened bargaining position, it can lead to situations where you are used by other teams/free agents for other ends, and it can lead trade partners to dig in their heels against a huge return, arguing that this is really all about money for the Cubs.
So, again, the pushback was coming – either from the Cubs via backchannels, or simply from consideration outside the organization that, hey, you know, they don’t have to trade Bryant, man.
Here’s the pushback. That it comes from the Cubs’ flagship radio station does not necessarily mean it’s coming directly from the top of the Cubs, but it certainly is consistent with that possibility:
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) January 2, 2020
If the Cubs hadn’t done absolutely nothing whatsoever to improve the big league roster for 2020, I’d be more inclined to buy this as a real possibility (and support it, too). As things stand, by keeping Bryant now, you’d simply be betting on the team being better in 2020 (despite a worse on-paper rotation and bullpen) with the same crew that showed considerable warts last year. What is the point of that?
Well, I’ll answer my own rhetorical question as favorably to the Cubs as I can, for argument’s sake: it’s possible this otherwise talented team competes in the first half, Bryant is a stud, and you’re glad you kept it all together. Maybe the coaching and training and support staff changes unlock something. Maybe the Cubs hit home runs on some reclamation relievers. How you manage to stay under the luxury tax from there while supplementing the club for a stretch run would likely be a challenge, but it’s a challenge for another day. Heck, maybe you have such a big lead and such good health that you don’t need to make additions, and you otherwise figure out how to get under the luxury tax by finding a taker for another contract because so many guys are playing so well.
It is at least not absolutely insane to suggest that the Cubs, as constructed, could still be a competitive team in the first half, and then you take it from there. That’s the best argument for kicking the Bryant trade decision down the road. It’s the keep-em-together-dream-scenario for 2020.
But even in that dream world, you’ve done nothing to address the post-2021 cliff, you’ve certainly not set yourself up for the best possible run in 2020-21 because you added nothing to this group, there’s no guarantee you won’t fall off in the second half of 2020 (since you “can’t” add salary), and it’s at least as likely you wind up in even worse position than you’re in now. So, again, what is the point in planning to just hold onto Bryant now instead of shopping him?
In a world where the Cubs are disinclined or unable to actively work to improve the 2020 team through free agency and acquisition trades, I simply do not see it as the best idea to keep Bryant now and just hope for a good first half. Sorry if that’s me kicking the Cubs’ leverage in the nethers, but they have to operate in the world they’ve created. And in that world, since they aren’t going to spend aggressively right now, it would be a mistake to just play out the string in 2020 and 2021. Either be aggressive to supplement that window, or be aggressive to reboot for 2021 and beyond. You already chose the latter path by letting free agency play out without you, and the worst thing you could do now is half-ass your approach.
That means, when Bryant’s service time grievance is resolved (hopefully this month), you very seriously consider what the market will bear in return for a trade right now. In the event that there is definitely no return out there that justifies a move of Bryant, however, then you consider moving out other players as soon as possible, and – only then – do you reevaluate whether there’s a better deal out there at the deadline for Bryant.
What you don’t do, in my view of what the Cubs are trying to accomplish, is go into the season half-in and half-out, kicking the can down the road. You do that, and you’re betting on luck to help you out (either good luck in competing in the first half, or good luck that Bryant’s performance/health/market will be better in July than it is now).
If you’re not going to go all-out in 2020 anyway, and if you’re going to seriously consider trading Bryant, then you’ve gotta make that decision now. Any other approach – kicking the decision down the road – feels like the same kind of “hope as a strategy” that has been a problem for the organization the last few years.