Ken Rosenthal busted out an interesting angle on Kris Bryant trade talks as they would relate to the NL East, where theoretically you’ve got at least three contenders that should be eagerly looking to upgrade at third base, and a fourth that could certainly work Bryant into the mix.
The thing is, adding Bryant would put the Nationals, Phillies, and Mets over the luxury tax, and bring the Braves right up to it:
One big move could decide the NL East. Which team wants to make it? Latest column: https://t.co/jHjJ4Csq9U
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 31, 2020
Does it matter? None of those teams were over the luxury tax last year, and each is in a large market. Bryant inarguably adds a considerable impact to their lineup in a division where four teams are very evenly-matched on paper. Shouldn’t they be willing to go over the luxury tax at this moment?
Given that the Cubs are, themselves, so dead set on getting under the luxury tax, it feels a little hard to throw stones …
Even setting aside the luxury tax element, this is a reminder that, at this stage in the offseason, budgets get filled up. Front offices generally have a chunk of dollars to allocate for the year ahead, and by February, those dollars are mostly all used up. Even if there have been trade talks behind the scenes for months (and there have been), actually incorporating a guy like Bryant into your budget can be difficult for teams that’ve already added substantially.
The Braves, for one example, are owned by a publicly-traded company. They can’t just “go over budget”, because they do not work that way operationally. Adding Bryant would mean the money to pay him is expected to be there in revenues, and that might mean having to subtract salary in the process – something the Cubs would take back only if it actually helped them be competitive (and sweetened the return).
Teams, meanwhile, do frequently reserve a buffer of available cash for midseason acquisitions, which is another financial reason why you might see them less interested in acquiring a pricey asset in February than seeing what’s what at the deadline. The financial cost is lower, you’ve already reserved money for that specific purpose, and the impact might not be that different. What you lost is the opportunity to use that player in the first four months of the season – maybe that makes the difference, or maybe you would’ve stunk anyway and wouldn’t have wanted to make the trade in the first place, or maybe the youngsters you currently have lined up at the position will be fine.
At least, that’s what these teams will throw at the Cubs in any negotiations.
I don’t want anyone to be caught off guard if there is a surprise deal, but at this point, because of the delay in the grievance case, I think it’s fair to wonder if the Cubs missed the reasonable window to make a deal. Trading Bryant was always going to require a massive return for the Cubs to pull it off, and it’s hard to see that coming together in February.
Dealing Bryant represented the most realistic way to simultaneously acquire impactful long-term pieces and also get under the luxury tax cap. Failing that, the Cubs will have to figure out some other way to unload salary, and it won’t come with a dramatic prospect/player return. It’s possible the Cubs will wind up waiting to see if some team(s) suffer pitcher injuries in Spring Training, and then they could shop Jose Quintana or Tyler Chatwood.
It sucks that, of the two lanes the Cubs could have chosen this offseason – aggressively add to compete in 2020, deal with the 2021 cliff and financial limitations later; or soft reboot for 2021 by trading assets for prospects/players – they have basically chosen neither. Some of that was out of their hands, but not all of it was. Now they’re looking at a season where they just have to hope that things go well. It’s not like it’s impossible, mind you, especially with Bryant in the middle of the lineup.