My head. She’s a spinnin’. This is really wild stuff, so I guess I’ll caution up front – like I do at the end – that a lot of rumors are gonna spin up in the wake of Kris Bryant’s service time grievance decision, and although it might be true that discussions have taken place, it doesn’t mean anything WILL happen.
Here’s the deal: in his radio hit today with Dave Kaplan on ESPN 1000, Jesse Rogers dropped a freaking bombshell rumor.
“This is something I heard very recently. Yes, Arenado would love to play for the Cubs, I agree with Jeff [Passan] on that, but I’ll go one step further,” Rogers said in response to Passan’s earlier comment about the Cubs and Arenado. “They’ve even discussed a one-for-one deal, Kris Bryant for Nolan Arenado, where the Rockies pick up a good portion of Arenado’s salary over the length of the contract – I’m talking $7 or $8M per year. That’s how much they need to get rid of Arenado and he wants out.”
“The Cubs have a cornerstone third baseman along with Javy Baez, probably one they might consider a little bit more of a sure thing than Kris Bryant these days coming off the two injury years …. It sounds crazy, but it is something they have discussed: A one-for-one Bryant for Arenado deal.”
My God. Yes. It does sound crazy. But that’s not to say I don’t believe Rogers has heard this, or that the Cubs and Rockies have at least considered this possibility.
So much to unpack here.
At a very, very, very superficial level (and ignoring, for the moment, a boatload of context), you could see why the Cubs might be interested in swapping two years of Kris Bryant for seven years of Nolan Arenado, even at market price. They want a staple who is going to be around for longer than two years, and if Bryant isn’t going to sign an extension, then boom, make the swap.
But the context. There’s so much context. For one thing, Arenado’s seven-year, $236 million contract is actually just a two-year deal with a five-year player option after that … because he can opt out after two years. So unless that opt out is dealt with in the trade (maybe Arenado is willing to waive it to go where he wants to go? Maybe he takes a little cash to get rid of it?), you’re effectively swapping two years of a star third baseman (followed by uncertainty) for two years of a star third baseman (followed by uncertainty). It wouldn’t make sense unless the Cubs are absolutely gaga about Arenado, specifically. Maybe they are, but I highly doubt they prefer him THAT much more than Bryant for the next two years. No, it’s about the long-term deal.
So, then, the Cubs are getting their long-term guy and the Rockies are getting a short-term guy who costs a lot less. But there’s an obvious problem, and it’s the massive disparity in trade value – Bryant, for two arbitration years, is worth a great deal more than Arenado on a massive deal that puts the team on the hook for $236 million if he founders. Is $7 or $8 million a year shaved off of Arenado’s deal enough to make the trade value equal? Eh, it might be getting close, but you’re still talking about $24.5 to $25.5 million AAV over seven years for Arenado. Great contract? Absolutely. Still a ton? Yes.
Let’s say that IS even value, though, just for the sake of argument. Are the Cubs in a position to do that deal? Well, you know the obvious problem: the 2020 luxury tax. Since being over the tax in 2020 comes with huge financial implications for 2021 and beyond (especially if you’re adding a huge contract and plan to spend aggressively again in 2021 and beyond), it’s a near ironclad truth that the Cubs are going to get under the luxury tax this year, even if they WANT to add a guy like Arenado.
So that means, either by way of this swap and/or subsequent ones, the Cubs have to come out of the exchange(s) dropping some $5+ million in luxury tax payroll (since they are currently still a shade over, and then bonuses accrue during the season). I just can’t see the Cubs starting the season over the luxury tax and counting on being able to dump significant salary at some point during the year.
Could the Cubs pull it off?
Well, let’s see. Arenado’s AAV is $32.5 million, so take it down to $24.5 million with the cash the Rockies are throwing in. Then you take away Bryant’s $18.6 million salary, and the Cubs have bumped up about $6 million. How do they then shave off another $11 million? Well, we’ve talked about the possibility of trading Jose Quintana. There’s also the possibility that the Cubs could simply require the Rockies to take on a short-term contract (Tyler Chatwood?) to get the deal done. Or maybe there are other pieces the Cubs could move? As I think out loud, though, it sure seems like the Cubs would be putting themselves in a really awkward position if they completed this trade first, and then had just a few weeks to try to shave $10+ million in trades. Kinda seems like you’d need to have your ducks in a row first before you pulled the trigger on adding Arenado.
Buuuuuut, here’s the biggest question of all: why in the world would the Rockies do this? I get why they might feel like they have to move Arenado (the contract and the increasing animosity), and I also get that they may not have other great options out there on the market (because of his contract and because of the no-trade clause). But why wouldn’t they rather pick up lots and lots of long-term pieces in a trade for Arenado, rather than two years of another star?
I guess the answer would have to be because they still want to try to compete in the short-term? And then if it doesn’t work out, they could shop Bryant, themselves? Strikes me as a bizarre plan, though I guess I wouldn’t put it past the Rockies. Maybe they just feel like this is the best value they can get?
For his part, Rogers indicated that he wouldn’t expect Bryant to be a Rockie for long (which implies it’s just about getting the best value the Rockies can), and the deal is just a way for the Rockies to get out from under Arenado’s contract.
In any case, I guess we’ll have to keep mulling this possible DIRECT Bryant-Arenado connection, in addition to the overarching possible connection (i.e., Cubs trade Bryant elsewhere and then add Arenado separately). This is really wild stuff.
Obligatory reminder, though: the Cubs do not HAVE to trade Bryant, and the Cubs do not HAVE to acquire Arenado. They should proceed along these paths only where it helps them in the near AND long-term.