After an initial wave of relatively significant rumors connecting the Nationals to Kris Bryant trade rumors, and a follow-up wave of (seemingly) the Nationals trying to push back against those rumors, there’s another little data point to add to the mix.
The Nationals manager flat-out admitting that his club has talked about Bryant:
Nationals manager Dave Martinez on Kris Bryant and Nats' desire to add a significant bat to their lineup: "His name's definitely come up in conversations."
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) December 15, 2020
Martinez, of course, was the Cubs’ former bench coach under Joe Maddon, so he knows Bryant well. You don’t want to take TOO much away from him answering a question – the manager is not the GM, for one thing – but it’s kinda wild that Martinez was willing to say this out loud. You kinda never hear team employees doing that about player under contract with another club.
Also, if the *manager* is already aware that Bryant’s name has come up in conversations – internal? external? – that would seem to suggest the trade rumors are legit. Not that I necessarily doubted them – they were so widespread for over a year now, and the fit is so obvious – but it strikes me as notable that conversations got to the point where the manager is aware. A manager who has personal experience with the player. Like, a manager who maybe got asked his thoughts on trying to acquire Bryant? A manager who would probably love to slot Bryant in as his third baseman in 2021, when his team’s best window might have one more crack in it.
We know that if the Cubs could land a decent return for Bryant in trade, the reality is that they would like to go that route. Bryant is under control for just one more season, and it’s a season when the Cubs are (1) looking to make a “heavy restart” on the roster, (2) looking to add pieces for the future, and (3) looking to cut payroll (sigh). The Nationals have been a fit for a long time, so again, nothing here surprises me.
A reminder, though, that the Cubs don’t *have* to trade Bryant, and the Nationals – what with their extremely thin farm system – are a good fit in my view only if they’re open to including a post-hype guy like Victor Robles or Carter Kieboom. The Cubs simply aren’t going to get a huge return for one year of Bryant at $20 million, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t get a compelling enough return that it’s worth considering.
UPDATE: This is PERFECT, because it follows the pattern for these things – credible rumor, pushback, credible rumor, pushback, manager says it, GM says nah:
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo took the unusual step of talking about another team's player when he told reporters the Nats aren't interested in trading for Kris Bryant: “We haven’t had a serious conversation about Kris Bryant in probably two years. He was not… https://t.co/DE4ivBN7PE
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) December 15, 2020
“We haven’t had a serious conversation about Kris Bryant in probably two years. He was not a big guy on our radar last year or this year. He’s a great player but at this point and time of where we’re at, and what we have in our farm system, and where we’re going, we think we can allocate our dollars and prospect capital in another way”
Again, I don’t know why they are saying these things publicly one way or another, but there’s not really much reason to believe Rizzo (who has a pretty clear agenda (and I don’t mean that nefariously)) over Martinez (who, as a manager, was just kinda talking). None of that means Rizzo is wrong – by his standards, maybe the Nats haven’t had a serious conversation about Bryant in two years. Of course, for that to be true, approximately eight different credible sources from inside Chicago, inside Washington, and nationally would all have to have received bad information for two years running now, but hey, it’s possible.
Of course, it’s also possible that the Nationals simply don’t want to pin themselves in a corner on this, and when Rizzo says they haven’t had a “serious conversation,” he means they haven’t exchanged names in trade talks or something VERY serious like that.
UPDATE 2: Ha. Now it’s clear to me:
Rizzo: “It’s never a good idea to get one year of a really good player for three or four prospects of the future."
— Todd Dybas (@Todd_Dybas) December 15, 2020
In other words, they have TOTALLY had conversations with the Cubs about Bryant, but the Cubs’ asks were really steep, and thus the Nationals never considered it “serious.” So now they negotiate through the media.
(As an aside … the Nationals don’t even have three or four prospects they could right now bank on definitely being future big leaguers, so … )