Right after he broke the big news that the Kris Bryant service time grievance had finally been decided, Jeff Passan hopped on ESPN 1000 to talk to Dave Kaplan.
When I tuned in, Kaplan was just in the process of asking Passan an elaborate question about how the Cubs might coordinate a trade of Bryant with a subsequent trade for Nolan Arenado. You may recall that this is a highly-unlikely, but not completely-implausible scenario that’s been bandied about for a while, dating back to when the Cubs’ interest in Arenado became part of the public conversation.
In short, Kaplan asked Passan what would happen if the Cubs, having traded Bryant for pitching (or whatever), called up the Rockies and offered Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward (and his contract) for Arenado (and his entire contract). Passan gave the old “Rockies would hang up” answer, specifically citing the $86 million remaining on Heyward’s deal as too much. Discussion about appropriate financial levels and what-have-you ensued. I tend to think Passan was understating the weight of Arenado’s contract, but it was the kind of quick back-and-forth where I’m not really criticizing anyone on the particulars. Passan and Kap were just talking.
But what was particularly interesting was what came next from Passan, which he said multiple times and with the certainty of someone who has heard precisely this: Arenado would love to join the Chicago Cubs. Love it, Passan said. Love it.
In a normal situation, that really wouldn’t mean a lot, even coming from someone who has reported deeply on the Arenado situation. Guys under contract might love to play here or there, but it doesn’t really impact trade talks – the trading team just wants to get maximum value, not make happy the guy they’re trading away.
Except this isn’t a normal situation. Instead, it’s a situation where there’s an extremely strained relationship between Arenado and the Rockies. It’s a situation where Arenado has a monster contract that only so many teams could actually take on. It’s a situation where Arenado also has an opt-out after two years, further reducing his trade value. And, most critically, it’s a situation where Arenado has a full no-trade clause.
In other words, if things got to a point where the Rockies felt they had to deal Arenado to properly rebuild, then he can largely dictate where he goes in trade – and the Rockies would therefore not be able to expect a killer return.
So Passan’s note that Arenado would love to come to the Cubs sure is a lot more interesting than in a typical situation. Keep in mind, the Cubs aren’t just trying to avoid all salary altogether right now. They are trying to get back under the luxury tax this year to reset their penalties. And they also have a strong interest in having pieces in place for the longer-term so that they don’t fall off a cliff after 2021. That is to say, trading Bryant (if he’s not interested in a long-term extension and as a vehicle to cut salary while adding long-term pieces), and then trading for Arenado (in a deal that sends some other salary to Colorado) is not at all inconsistent with the Cubs’ short-term and long-term plans.
Nice to know that, if the Cubs could go that route, Arenado would be interested.
But can they actually go that route? Ah, so many huge moving parts at this point in the offseason, it seems very unlikely. Maybe there are talks. Maybe the teams keep tabs at midseason or next year. Of course, that presumes the Cubs were able to cut salary in some other way for 2020.
Hey, what about just sucking it up and trading for Arenado while keeping Bryant? Well, that would certainly make for a fun roster over the next two years, but it’s virtually impossible to accomplish it while staying under the luxury tax for 2020, even if the Rockies take on Heyward’s deal. I don’t think there is any intention right now not to get under the luxury tax for 2020, so you should probably remove this dream scenario from your mind.
Instead, as we keep an eye on these overlapping situations, you’re basically talking about this: an opportunity for the Cubs to get under the luxury tax in 2020 and add young pieces for the long-term (by trading Bryant), simultaneous with an opportunity to be equal or better in 2020 (if you consider Arenado and Bryant close in projected production, and then add the value of whatever the Cubs pick up in the Bryant deal being close to the loss in value from Heyward/Contreras (just an example) departing), and also adding a long-term fixture at third base for beyond 2021 (if Arenado doesn’t opt-out or waives the opt-out). It’s all of the Cubs’ goals – threading the needle – in one group of deals.
Again, it’s all extremely unlikely, but it’s kinda on the radar.