Getting right into it on a Monday morning, I see. Jon Heyman updates the Kris Bryant status and fits a whole lot into a tweet, following a report on MLB Network.
Here’s the gist:
Kris Bryant is a target of the Nats, but Nats are determined to keep young pitchers Rutledge and Cavalli. As I just said on @MLBNetwork despite speculation Bryant will indeed be tendered a contract by Cubs on tender/nontender day Wednesday. Other teams that fit KB: Mets, SF, Tor
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 30, 2020
There are actually three separate things to get into there.
First, let’s go with the tender. Were you betting on it, you’d probably peg Kris Bryant being tendered a contract by the Cubs on Wednesday as a 10-1 favorite. We’ve discussed the situation a great deal this offseason, but I never came away convinced that the Cubs situation was SO DIRE that they absolutely had to cut Bryant no matter what, or that his market value on a one-year deal was going to be so much less than his projected arbitration salary (let’s say $19 to $21 million) that it wasn’t worth keeping him. And that’s before you get into the non-zero fan hit you’d take from effectively releasing a former MVP and World Series winner.
Note that Heyman is not simply saying he believes a tender is forthcoming – he’s reporting it. That’s a notable distinction, because until it was actually reported that the Cubs were planning a tender, they could always tell trade partners before Wednesday, “Hey, the budget is insane right now, and we don’t know what’s going to happen, so if you want to make sure you get Bryant before he hits free agency and can get whatever deal he wants from whatever team he wants, you better offer us a little something.”
That approach, of course, pre-supposes that the Cubs have already conceded Bryant’s trade value is minimal, which maybe they aren’t willing to concede. So, with Heyman reporting that a tender is coming, the narrative from the Cubs would become something more like, “Yeah, of course we’re tendering him, because one year of Kris Bryant at $20 million is a steal, even in this market. Sure, we would consider trading him, but we don’t absolutely have to cut that salary, otherwise we simply would’ve non-tendered him.”
That transitions nicely into topic number two, which is the Nationals’ interest and trade evaluation. As we discussed just yesterday, the Nationals clearly want Bryant, but don’t want to give up much to get him. Hey, can you blame them? It’s easy for us, as Cubs fans, to view a post-hype Victor Robles or Carter Kieboom as a good fit in a trade, but if the Nats aren’t ready to move on from either youngster yet, then it’s not like they’re being unreasonable. Similarly, if they want to hold onto their last two first round picks, Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, who are the top two prospects in their system, it’s hard to blame them. Bryant’s trade value at the moment *isn’t* very significant.
HOWEVER, here’s the problem. While Rutledge and Cavalli are the top prospects in the Nats system, neither pitcher is a clear top 100 overall prospect in baseball. So if the Nats are trying to fashion a trade for Bryant without them and without Robles or Kieboom, then what are we talking about here? Like I said yesterday: Lower-level, modest-upside pitching prospects. Do the Cubs really want to trade Bryant for that? To be sure, Bryant might not have much more trade value than that, but there does have to be a point at which the Cubs simply decide to keep Bryant and re-assess at the Trade Deadline.
Now to the final part of Heyman’s report, which is mentioning other teams that “fit”: the Mets, the Giants, and the Blue Jays. It’s hard to say whether that’s just Heyman eyeballing the market, or (slightly more likely) those are teams that have been speculated about to him. Which is to say, it’s possible these are teams that have actual interest.
We’ve talked lightly about the Mets and Blue Jays before. The Mets make sense as a money-deep team that could use Bryant’s bat at third base and let Jeff McNeil move to second base now that Robinson Cano is suspended. But, of course, the chips they want to use this offseason are entirely on that money side, so what they’d give up in trade is probably minimal. Would they consider moving Amed Rosario after a down 2020 season and a failure to really improve much with the bat in his 3+ years in the big leagues? Again, that might be the type you could realistically hope for, but only if the Cubs felt they could really unlock Rosario’s bat, since his value is otherwise tied to being able to play decent shortstop. That’s not really a target for the Cubs in 2021.
As for the Blue Jays, I can see a ton of sense, in terms of their going-for-it-ness in 2021. They could craft a decent prospect package if that was the order of the day, or maybe the Cubs spice the offer up to try to get Rowdy Tellez’s bat (if they believe in his massive contact improvements in 2020, and also if they believe the DH is coming again in 2021). I’m probably dreaming on Tellez, so maybe the Cubs like Jonathan Davis as a late breakout type who can play anywhere in the outfield? Just thinking out loud.
As for the Giants, that’s an interesting one, given that they’d have to really be going for it in 2021 to want to add Bryant. Obviously there’s the front office connection (Scott Harris), which might make trade talks a little easier. The Giants have plenty of pieces that could make a deal work, and they certainly have the money. But are they really pushing in for 2021? Feels like they’d need to make several significant additions for a Bryant trade to make sense. Which is not to say they won’t go that route – stacking moves in a single offseason can be the most effective if you otherwise feel your org is ready to compete. Cubs certainly did it a lot back when they did that kind of thing.
If the Cubs are indeed planning to tender Bryant this week, AND if they’re out there confirming as much such that a guy like Heyman gets the scoop, then what we could see is a lack of real urgency to make a deal any time soon, at least from the Cubs’ perspective. Since they aren’t planning to go nuts in free agency anyway, they might just have to sit back and let the rest of the market dictate their timeline.