I let out a big old HECK YEAH when the word dropped yesterday: Josh Donaldson is signing with the not-Braves (eh-hem … Twins)! That’s some seriously big news.
Not only does his decision clear one major hurdle the Cubs likely needed before seriously engaging in Kris Bryant trade discussions – shoring up the actual market of interested teams – it removed a Bryant alternative (Donaldson) from a non-Bryant suitor (Minnesota), while leaving the best trade partner (Braves) holding the bag. And since the Braves were always the favorites to land Donaldson, this had a little extra dose of happy-surprise-time-now.
But before we get into the fallout of this Bryant trade saga, I do want to reiterate one crucially important point in this whole discussion – something the anti-trade fans were probably screaming at their screens over the last paragraph: No, the Cubs shouldn’t trade Bryant no matter what. That’s definitely not what we’re saying when we talk about Donaldson and the market and good news for the Cubs.
This entire conversation is predicating upon two premises: (1) I want the Cubs to be in the best position and have the best possible market for Bryant *if they decide to trade him*; and (2) the Cubs have not only signaled an intention to trade Bryant this offseason, we’re getting to a point where, if they don’t, they might remain over the luxury tax threshold, thus incurring penalties – and limiting next year’s spending – all without significantly adding to the 2020 roster or improving for the future.
In other words, if you’re not trading Bryant at this point … you probably should have signed some free agents. Hate where we are? I understand. But that’s kind of the reality of where things have landed. The Cubs MUST get under the luxury tax at this point, and then proceed to reengage in spending next year.
Arenado Trade More Likely?
According to Jon Morosi, the odds of a Nolan Arenado deal have gone up now that Josh Donaldson has agreed to a four-year contract with the Twins. And, to an extent, I can understand that feeling (it’s a similar argument to the one we’ve made with Bryant/the Cubs) … but I’m not sure it’s exactly apples-to-apples. Arenado has a very different market than Bryant – which includes the Cubs, themselves, plus the Cardinals, and Rangers, but probably excludes the Dodgers and possibly even the Braves and Nationals, too.
In fact, while we’re on it, let’s quickly run down the list to see where we are:
- The Cubs have been connected to Arenado plenty, but would obviously need to move out money before a deal could happen (or moving that money in the deal, itself).
- The Rangers and Cardinals both checked in recently – St. Louis has even exchanged names – and would presumably love to make an Arenado deal happen, but Morosi’s “sources say neither team was close to trading for him” as of yesterday, because of the opt-out following the 2021 seasons. The Cardinals have also been unwilling to include top prospects (which I think is fair, given that contract). And the Rangers seem content pivoting to Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos.
- The Dodgers are not going to get Arenado from the Rockies. I just don’t see it.
- The Nationals are reportedly more likely to target Bryant than Arenado because “the money left on Arenado’s contract ($234M over seven years) is viewed as too substantial for the Nationals payroll structure.” On the one hand, that seems silly – they just won the World Series, have plenty of money, and a clear need, but on the other hand (1) they did just fill in the gaps with some infield free agents, (2) the Strasburg mega-deal is brand new, and (3) none of Arenado’s money is deferred the way they like. I actually buy it that they don’t want a commitment that large.
- The White Sox are apparently a long-shot possibility for Arenado, but I’m not even going to explore that now, because I just really doubt it.
- The Braves … are a tough one. They certainly have more than enough prospect capital to get a deal done for Arenado, but they definitely aren’t itching to take on that contract (think how they were limiting their Donaldson offer!). And if Arenado waves his no-trade clause *or* removes his opt-out, it’s going to be in exchange for even more money, which simply might not be something Atlanta is prepared to cover.
So did an Arenado trade really get more likely because of Donaldson signing with the Twins? I don’t really think so. No. In a weird way, if the Rangers and Cardinals really are cooling off, the Cubs might strangely be the most likely suitor (and that’s not actually saying much).
Is Bryant Already in Atlanta?
There is absolutely no doubt that the odds of Bryant heading to Atlanta have ticked up after Donaldson signed with the Twins. We covered the general reasons why in the intro – though I’ll reiterate that his shorter (two years), cheaper ($40-45M) commitment isn’t just more attractive, it may be the only doable deal for the Braves, even if it costs more in prospects.
And that does seem to be the prevailing wisdom:
Can't say if a Braves deal will happen but Atl still wants a righty, clean up hitter, Snitker loves KB and the Cubs are still willing….still have that grievance to get past…lots of Cubs talk on ESPN 1000 later this week.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) January 15, 2020
The Braves Definitely, Totally Don’t Want Bryant
Oh, but what’s this? The Braves are a strong, independent franchise that doesn’t need help from anybody!
Braves have the prospects and could consider Bryant or Arenado, tho early word is that neither star 3B is especially likely for them. They’ve been linked to Ozuna, and Castellanos is out there as well.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 15, 2020
By the way, because I just checked out of curiosity: Over past two seasons, Starling Marté had 6.6 bWAR to Kris Bryant’s 5.5.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) January 15, 2020
Heyman, for all of his solid sourcing, seems to repeat so much of what he hears word for word. After an entire offseason of definitely being connected to Donaldson and Bryant, specifically, the Braves are suddenly interested in the two poor defensive, weaker hitting corner outfielders? Uhm, no. That’s just not what’s happening and they have not been linked to either free agent in any way that seriously measures up to their actual suitors.
As for O’Brien, he covers the Braves closely, which sure does make you wonder if he got a nudge. Like, out of curiosity he just happened to check in on rumored trade candidate, Starling Marte, and noticed that he had more bWAR than Bryant? Hmm. Also, Marte isn’t better than Bryant. Also, that’s not the position they need. Also, they’ve literally never been connected to him.
What About the Nationals?
Well, the Nationals were seen as a likely landing spot for Bryant – maybe the most likely – before they added Starlin Castro, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Eric Thames, but they certainly have less urgency now.
Moreover, the rumor that they did not want to give up Victor Robles for Bryant was out there before Donaldson’s deal, so it’s a little more believable:
Young Carter Kieboom looks like he’ll get a crack at replacing Rendon at 3B in DC. Nats don’t want to give up Robles for Bryant and likely don’t have the prospects for Bryant or Arenado.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 15, 2020
Then again, with the Braves still involved, the relative price tag on Bryant did just tick up (richer bidders tends to do that), so perhaps now the Robles ask isn’t as ridiculous. It still feels unlikely, but I doubt the Nationals would love seeing Bryant with their rivals in the East. (Also, don’t forget those Phillies rumors.)
Where Are the Dodgers in All This?
I have no idea. Their ability to keep things quiet this offseason has been impressive. Presumably – given their past interest in Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and even Nolan Arenado – they’d be interested in Kris Bryant (as we’ve heard multiple times from Ken Rosenthal), but that stuff just continues to fall short of bubbling to the surface. I could imagine them getting more serious on Bryant now that a trade for Mookie Betts seems less likely, but Francisco Lindor remains an intriguing alternative (I don’t actually think the Indians are going to move him, even now that the Twins just got a little better, but it’s always a possibility).
And that’s where we are … waiting on the service time grievance. So at least some things stay the same.