No movement has come so far in the MLB offseason, as everyone is in a standoff of sorts, waiting for another team to make the first move. So in searching around for anything to talk about during this period of nothingness, I came across a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney with a headline of “Cubs open to trading 3B Kris Bryant”.
Now, that is something that catches my attention.
There might be some confusion surrounding this title, as Cubs fans were likely losing their minds thinking about how and why the golden boy could possibly be on his way out of town.
This all stems from questions directed at Cubs president Theo Epstein about the Cubs offseason plans and if certain players were off limits in trade negotiations, to which Epstein responded by saying, “We’ve never operated with untouchables,” in regards to potential trade offers for Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but later went on to seemingly dismiss their availability when he then said “it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them.”
Now, this could just be a red herring, as teams frequently make certain players ‘available’, just to see what the market for a player of equal talent is, but with the Cubs, it seems somehow different.
The Cubs seemed like they were going to be the next baseball juggernaut after breaking the Curse of the Billie Goat and winning the 2016 World Series. They had a legit core of young and up-and-coming players in Bryant, Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, all of whom were under the age of 26 at the time. However, 2017 and 2018 have come and gone, with the Cubs getting their doors blown off by the Dodgers in the 2017 NLCS and then failing to escape the NL Wild Card game against the underdog Rockies this past season.
That vaunted core began to show cracks, though. With the exception of Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber (sort of), each of the previously mentioned players took a step back this season.
It’s well documented how bad the Cubs offense was this season, and some of the blame can be laid at the feet of the players I just mentioned. However, the lack of production could likely be attributed to Chili Davis, who was fired in October after one year as the Cubs hitting coach. It should be noted that during Davis’ tenure with the Red Sox, the team was near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories. With the Cubs looking to bolster it’s offense this winter, firing Davis appears to be a step in the right direction.
However, all that aside, Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have said that the team needs to add more pieces for the 2019 season. That may be harder than it sounds though, as the Cubs have left themselves surprisingly strapped for cash. The Cubs are paying $87.5 million dollars to Jason Hayward, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Yu Darvish alone next year. Despite being a huge market team, the luxury tax still seems to be looming large for the Cubbies, and if they are to sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, who have both been linked to the Cubs, they could very easily blow past the $206 million dollar threshold.
It should also be noted that, earlier in the offseason, Epstein himself said that the team needed to restock its farm system, which has been depleted from its once endless stock of prospects in the pursuit of the 2016 title and over the past two seasons while the team was going for broke.
So where does the “Kris Bryant being shopped” story come into all of this? Well, here’s the short of it, in my humble opinion.
The Cubs have a very young and, on paper, talented core. All those player, with the exception of Willson Contreras, who is not yet arbitration eligible, are going to be needing extensions soon. Kris Bryant went into arbitration last year and got a record-breaking $10.85 million dollars as a settlement, and this year it’s projected by MLBTradeRumors that he will likely receive $12.4 million, despite the down year.
Additionally, with a claim from ESPN 1000 host David Kaplan saying that the Cubs went to Bryant with a “Massive Extension” worth “Well north of $200 million”, which the star reportedly turned down (a claim which has yet to be substantiated, but known negotiations between the Club and Bryant about an extension have taken place, with little to no progress), it begs the question of how much with Bryant want and will what are the Cubs willing to give?
Kris Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, and will 100% demand the absolute maximum amount of money. Like I said before, the Cubs youth movement will be looking for extensions soon, and each of them won’t be able to get what they want, especially if staying under the luxury tax is as big a deal as being reported. With those extensions looming large, and money supposedly being tight, Bryant may be the most expendable of the group.
When Bryant was out for more than 50 games this season, 25-year old David Bote stepped in at third base and did so pretty well. If the Cubs were to hypothetically part ways with Bryant, they would have an in-house replacement who’s younger and could fill in immediately and produce.
If the Cubs were to deal Bryant, they would get a king’s ransom for the young star, which could very much replenish the farm system that Epstein described. Think of something like the Aroldis Chapman trade or the Shelby Miller trade, moving a bonafide and proven big leaguer for 3 or 4 legit prospects.
Whatever Bryant will ask for in the next coming years, he will most likely not be worth it. To quote Epstein:
“Ultimately we should be held accountable for our performance, not for the amount of change in the names. And we will be, and this group will be…. the time for that talent to translate into performance is now … or else we’re going to be looking at some hard realities and the need for a lot of change going forward.”,
It sounds like it’s put up or shut up for this Cubs core. I’d expect if there’s anything less than a World Series appearances, multiple guys are getting moved next offseason. Hell, if they start out slow, we may see some key players get shopped by the deadline.
It’s a critical period for the Cubs. The sky isn’t falling yet, but it doesn’t appear to seem far off. And with all the contributing factors of money, wanted prospects, growing expectations, and lack of time, The Cubs are either going to break the bank in the next few months or someone big is getting moved.
Photo by Denis Poroy- Getty Images