Given the heat out there on the Washington Nationals and Kris Bryant, and the specificity of some of the reporting, I have zero doubt that the Nationals would like to acquire Bryant this offseason.
So, then, how do I square that belief with the latest from Ken Rosenthal this morning:
According to a source, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo is scheduled to speak with team ownership on Tuesday. The discussion is expected to provide Rizzo with greater clarity on the club’s payroll for 2021, but the Nats remain unlikely to be a major player for a big-ticket item such as Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant or free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu, sources say.
The Nats are at something of a crossroads. Left fielder Juan Soto is one of the top hitters in the game, but shortstop Trea Turner is the team’s only other dynamic offensive player. Even the Nats’ traditional strength, starting pitching, is in question. Max Scherzer is entering his free-agent year. Patrick Corbin’s average fastball velocity declined from 91.8 mph in 2019 to 90.1 last season. Stephen Strasburg is signed through ’26, but will be more of an injury risk in his ages 32 through 37 seasons.
Soto, 22, is under club control for four more seasons, yet the Nats’ competitive window might be starting to close. The team probably cannot afford to commit to a Bryant or LeMahieu while trying to fill so many other holes, making less expensive options more viable.
If ownership provides the resources, sticking with Carter Kieboom at third and bringing back Ryan Zimmerman to play first might leave the Nats with enough flexibility to sign, say, Marcell Ozuna or Michael Brantley for the outfield and catcher James McCann to pair with Yan Gomes. Such a combination would be only one possibility. Rizzo would be dealing with more of a blank canvas than usual.
We know the Nats want Bryant (among other possible additions), so how can it be that they are “exploring a trade” for Bryant … but also “probably cannot afford” Bryant?
Well, I think the easiest way to bridge that gap is by keeping it simple: the Nats have a tight budget, like everyone, and would really like to get good players for less money. Also, with rumors getting pretty hot and public, this just feels like one of those pull-back-the-reins situations.
I’m not saying Rosenthal is merely carrying water here – the guy is the best in the biz for a reason – but I am saying that it’s not like you can’t still work out a deal for a guy when money is an issue. Indeed, we had some fun yesterday with a silly suggestion about swapping Bryant for Starlin Castro precisely because Castro carries a $7 million salary that would effective reduce the salary of Bryant in trade. So it’s not like the Nationals can’t “afford” Bryant’s salary if they structure a trade with that in mind.
To that end, I’m not saying, but I am kind of saying: given that the rumors coming out of Washington have the Nats interested in Bryant, but only wanting to part with low-level, not-top pitching prospects … wouldn’t the Cubs covering some of Bryant’s salary (either directly or by taking a contract back) be a way to harmonize these issues? Like, maybe if the Cubs cover some salary, they can actually get a decent return that won’t make us want to take a giant angry lawn dump?
I know your response: much of the reason the Cubs are shopping Bryant in the first place is to REDUCE payroll, not to take on or eat some money. And to that I say, hey, it’s not your money, so you’re allowed to hope on whatever you want! Even if the Cubs took on/ate $7 million, they’d still be “saving” upwards of $13 million. And if doing that allowed them to ACTUALLY get back potential impact long-term pieces, then I’m sure as heck hoping that’s the approach they take. (Again, this is in a world where I’m assuming the Cubs have decided they’re moving Bryant one way or another.)
So, that is all to say, I actually found this report from Rosenthal intriguing, rather than discouraging. We know the Nationals want Bryant, and now we know they probably have the same kind of pressure point that the Cubs have. It could actually help think about the deal in a different way.
Oh, and for all the other reasons Rosenthal said, the Nationals should be PARTICULARLY interested in adding a big-time bat for the 2021 season, specifically.
I guess we’ll see if any more rumors trickle out about the Nationals’ plans financially via that cited ownership meeting today.