Although it is still technically possible that the Cubs could trade Kris Bryant – or another player – in the waning weeks of Spring Training, the reality is that teams are loath to be that disruptive at this point in the ramp-up, and receiving teams are almost never able or willing to accommodate a $15+ million addition to the budget right now.
That is to say, yeah, I guess, keep it in mind that a trade is always still possible, but … it’s not going to happen. The Cubs will enter the season with Kris Bryant as their starting third baseman, leading off the lineup, and that’s a good thing for their hopes of competing in the first half.
I found it very interesting as a data point, however, that the San Diego Union-Tribune reported this week the contours of the Cubs’ trade talks this offseason with the Padres about Bryant. To be sure, there were a number of rumors throughout the offseason about interest, but we never got the sense that names had been exchanged. Per the Union-Tribune report, the Cubs did have some specific names in mind:
“Every report out of Cubs camp indicates former University of San Diego star Kris Bryant will remain with the team at least until the Cubs determine whether they are contenders. That doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t willing (and even trying) to move him.
The main factor in his remaining with the team may be the asking price.
According to two sources, the Cubs talked to the Padres recently about acquiring starting pitcher Dinelson Lamet and other players for the 2016 National League MVP, who will be a free agent after the 2021 season. There were multiple scenarios the Cubs were interested in that included Lamet. One source characterized Lamet and catching prospect Luis Campusano as the primary ask for Bryant.”
I’ll set mostly aside the stuff in there about the Cubs still maybe trying to move Bryant (I don’t buy it at the present moment) or about the talks being “recent” (there’s a lot of flexibility in a word like recent). Again, I hold open possibilities that the Cubs talked to the Padres as “recently” as this week about a Bryant trade – I don’t know for certain that isn’t true – but I think a trade is so unlikely at this time that I don’t think it’s worth getting anyone up in a snit about this being a real and current possibility.
Instead, I think this report is most interesting for the following reasons:
- It suggests the Padres have had legit interest in Bryant, who would be an outfielder on the Padres. Depending on how the season plays out for both teams, that interest could remain at midseason. Remember, the Padres were the other finalist on Mookie Betts, so clearly they still would be open to adding an impact bat in the outfield.
- It paints a pretty clear picture of the kind of return the Cubs hoped for in a Bryant deal if they were going to pull the trigger: immediate pitching impact and top prospect talent. No surprise there, as we’ve long expected that *IF* the Cubs were going to deal Bryant, they were going to try to do so in a way that not only brought back impactful pitching to plug right in, but also opened up cash that they might’ve spent to supplement the offense. Threading the needle: trading away a star in Bryant and yet maybe not being so much worse overall in 2020, while also building for the future.
- Lamet, 27, is seen by many as an extreme breakout candidate just waiting to happen. He just returned from Tommy John in 2019, pitching only a half season, but his stuff and his peripherals started to get really nutty. The fastball kept climbing into the upper-90s, and his two shapes of slider were both nasty. If you were trying to acquire a potential long-term, cost-controlled ace, Lamet is a guy you’d go after. There’s risk there, obviously, but if there were no risk, he’d flat out be unavailable. Maybe the Cubs can just acquire him some other way as the Padres promote from their monstrous cache of young pitching …
- Campusano, 21, rocketed up prospect lists this offseason (top 50-60ish) after his fantastic High-A season in 2019 (.325/.396/.509, 148 wRC+, 10.7% BB rate, 11.7% K rate). He’s a stud. He’s a catcher, which might make him a weird target for the Cubs, but in large part you’d just be targeting a young, stud, offensive talent. The Cubs don’t have a lot of that at AA and above.
- Speculatively, I’d also point out that if the Cubs were specifically targeting Lamet, you wonder what else they might have done – transactionally – in their own rotation. They arguably already could shop a short-term veteran arm if they wanted to move salary, but if they had Lamet in place, then it really becomes doable.
- Similarly, adding a stud catching prospect like Campusano makes you wonder what might have happened after that. Again, it’s mostly about the talent and the bat, but given that there were also rumors connecting the Cubs and Padres about Willson Contreras, doesn’t it make you wonder if Lamet/Campusano was also the ask there? Would make some sense.
- Separately, Lamet/Campusano as the “primary” ask for Bryant suggests even more was expected by the Cubs. It was deemed too much by the Padres, according to the report.
In the end, I don’t really want to get into whether Lamet/Campusano would have been enough for Bryant, or whether that’s what they should target if talks resume later. So much can change between now and then, and also we don’t know what the WHOLE picture of the trade talks were. A Padres report indicates the Cubs wanted those two guys (at least), and that does tell us a little something about the Cubs’ angle.
It’s interesting. It’s a data point for our brains going forward.
Theo Epstein has made it clear that the Cubs are either going to be very competitive in the first half, or they are seriously going to contemplate a sell-off, even if they haven’t performed terribly.