The sell-off began last night when the Cubs shipped Joc Pederson to the Braves in exchange for first base prospect Bryce Ball. Pederson was among the most clearly available trade chips for the Cubs this month, right up there with Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, and Zach Davies, even if the relative values are quite different. Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, and Anthony Rizzo are also theoretically available, but not quite as obviously (and probably in that order).
Speaking of which, the Cubs will reportedly try to extend Baez and Rizzo before exploring any trades over the next couple weeks. However, if neither is re-signed (and if Craig Kimbrel does get dealt before the deadline, as I suspect he will), the Cubs’ 2022 payroll projects out to right around $80 million ($81.5M for CBT purposes), and that’s including arbitration estimates, pre-arb 40-man estimates, and insurance/benefits. There’s a lot of guess work in there, but that’s the general idea.
For comparison’s sake, the Cubs payroll was around $220M ($237M CBT) at its height in 2019. And this year, the opening day payroll was right around $150 million ($175M CBT). So if the Cubs wind up saving even more cash by trading some of their more expensive players at the deadline, they should have PLENTY of money to spend this offseason, even if they extend one or both of Javy Báez and Anthony Rizzo. That doesn’t mean they should spend it all at once (there are some reasons not to go hog wild all in one offseason), but they should be able to make a lot of noise.
And you know what? I expect them to do exactly that, especially when they can target the guys they want regardless of tier. I don’t know that they’ll be going for the guys at the absolute top of the market, but the pricey short-term guys? Why not? Bring ’em in, see what happens early in 2022, and the evaluate again next June/July.
Kris Bryant’s Impact, Market, More
We have kind of a lot of Kris Bryant stuff to get into, so let’s start wide and filter down to something more specific, okay?
At CBS Sports, R.J. Anderson ranked the top-21 trade candidates in terms of expected impact (presumably in the regular season, not the playoffs), and somewhat surprisingly, Kris Bryant arrives on top. But maybe that’s not so unfair. While Kimbrel (No. 10) is almost certainly going to provide a bigger impact to his new team this October, Bryant can likely do more to get a team there. And that actually unlocked a new way of thinking for me: Maybe the best Bryant suitor out there isn’t the team already in first place, running away with the division looking to add pieces only for October, but rather the team still in the thick of a race, with ground to make up (or a gap to widen) in August and September?
For example, the Giants (2.0 game lead), Mets (3.5 game lead), and Red Sox (1.5 game lead) all have a tenuous grasp on their division with room to add a player as versatile as Kris Bryant, while the Phillies (3.5 games back), Braves (4.0 games back), and Nationals (6.0 games back) have some ground to make up while also being connected to the Cubs All-Star over the last year or so.
And for what it’s worth, Jon Heyman has taken to Twitter twice over the past 24-hours to note the pervasive interest from the Mets as well as the Nationals:
Nats are among many teams said interested in Kris Bryant but it’s uncertain if there’s a prospect match. Nats do not want to trade top pitching prospects Cavalli or Rutledge
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 16, 2021
As we’ve said time and time again, the Nationals don’t line up well with the Cubs in terms of pure prospects, but I’d still be willing to take a chance on a post-hype sleeper prospect like Carter Kieboom as part of a package. Sure, there’s risk there, but if he figures it out, the Cubs can settle an entire position for the next four seasons with a young, upside player. That would leave them with so much more money to spend elsewhere.
In any case, the general momentum seems to be pushing towards the Mets.
A week ago, Andy Martino more or less confirmed the Mets’ current interest in Bryant (linking it back to their discussions over the offseason), casually mentioning the Cubs’ then-interest in J.D. Davis and catching prospect Francisco Alvarez (Mets No. 1 prospect, MLB’s No. 34 overall prospect). Landing either player, let alone both, for half a season of Bryant sure sounds like a pipe dream (I don’t think Alvarez is realistically attainable in any deal), so I’m not really sure what’s going on there. For what it’s worth, Martino did say that the Mets felt like those discussions were further down the road than the Cubs.
In any case, there’s an update, and it kind of tracks.
The update of note is that after all their moves are done, the Mets hope to remain under the luxury tax threshold for 2021, for which they have under $10M of breathing room and multiple pieces to add. Trading for Bryant, then, would bring them perilously close to that threshold (there’s about $6.5-$7 million remaining on his deal). To offset those costs, and still be able to add a starting pitcher, the Mets “would likely need to move a salary like J.D. Davis’.”
I’ll remind you that the Mets have been connected to a pitcher like Zach Davies in trade rumors over the last month, and also the Cubs should be willing and expected to eat salary to ensure a better return (remember: until recently, they were expected to ADD salary this month in buy-side trades). So, for the Mets, the Cubs should be an ideal player/financial trade partner. Just pointing it out.
Martino reiterates that the Cubs and Mets haven’t exchanged proposals yet, but there is a lot of smoke here and plenty of really interesting fits on the big league (J.D. Davis, Zach Davies, Kris Bryant) and prospect side (Francisco Alvarez if you want to dream, but several other quality prospects from there in a top-heavy Mets system).
Oh, also? Jesse Rogers indicated that he’s heard the Mets are the most likely team to make a big enough push to land Bryant this month. There just continues to be a lot of smoke here.
Byron Buxton – Extended or Traded?
Byron Buxton has been one of the most interesting players to follow. He was one of those true UBER prospects back in 2014-2016 (when he was ranked #1 or #2 in all of MLB by Baseball America), but injuries and some growing pains have generally prevented him from doing anything special … until this season (age-27), when he absolutely went OFF on the entire league: .369/.409/.767 (216 wRC+).
Unfortunately, a fractured left hand near the end of June has him sidelined with no current timetable to return, and the Twins are stuck again, with just one more year to go before Buxton is a really weird free agent case. Or so you would think.
According to Ken Rosenthal, they’re taking the leap of faith and are attempting to sign him to a long-term extension. (And you thought it was hard to figure out Javy Báez’s extension value!)
Rosenthal seems to hint that the Twins offer is somewhere in the range of $75-$100M, though he concedes that it would be a clear bargain if he could stay healthy. Rosenthal adds that there would be significant escalators and incentives, but still … this is a guy who will have made around $25 million by the time he hits free agency as a 29-year-old after next season. If he stayed healthy in 2022, he could probably earn a contract twice as large as what the Twins are offering.
But if Buxton does not accept the extension, Rosenthal believes they will try to trade him, and Jon Heyman has heard that the Phillies would be among the teams ready and waiting to pounce:
The Phillies would be at or near the front of the line if Byron Buxton became available. As @Ken_Rosenthal said the Twins are first attempting to lock him up. Tricky negotiation tough: superstar who’s been hurt a lot.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 16, 2021
Just like an extension, however, this would be very tricky to find common ground on value.
It’s a *little* fun to think about Buxton being healthy and reaching free agency after next year, right? I’m not saying he’d be a Cubs target – we’re too far off to speculate intelligently on that – but it’d be fun to follow. You never know.