Whether the Cubs trade Kris Bryant is one of the biggest questions surrounding their roster this winter, leading into a 2021 season that’s his final under team control.An equally significant question is how many legitimate trade partners there are among the league’s 29 other teams.Bryant is a top tier player, a proven performer with an MVP award and three All-Star game appearances on his résumé. He’s dealt with injuries in recent seasons but is still a guy who would make any lineup better, one with added value for his ability to play multiple positions.However, it isn’t as simple as the Cubs moving Bryant, even as they cut payroll following a season of revenue losses. They’re not the only club dealing with an unprecedented financial climate — they and many others don’t have set budgets for next season — and Bryant’s projected salary is around $20 million — no small sum.And, heck, a trade is far from certain.“I don’t think it should be treated as a fait accompli that [a trade is] going to happen,” Jed Hoyer said recently on the Cubs Talk Podcast.If the Cubs do move Bryant, they won’t give him away for nothing and have a right to expect a reasonable return. However, his one year of club control and down 2020 season (in a small sample size) does affect his trade value.Another important factor — in general but especially when considering the aforementioned points — is finding a trade partner is easier said than done. If you didn’t think this would be tough, take a look at how MLB's other 29 teams come into this.It’s less about the likelihood of pulling off a deal with 1-2 teams and more about pulling off a deal with anybody.
Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rays, Marlins, A’s, Indians, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mariners
We can scratch the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates off this list because the Cubs are trying to thread a needle of keeping their long-term future in mind while remaining competitive in 2021.
It’s hard to envision the Cubs trading one of their stars to a rival in any case, but with how wide open the NL Central is, dealing Bryant within the division would hurt their chances of winning it next season.
Additionally, the Pirates are rebuilding, the Reds are cutting payroll and the Brewers are expected to, and the Cardinals are at least holding steady, if not cutting.
Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall said in September it’s
“far-fetched” that they'll have a payroll as high as 2020 next season. The Rays and Marlins always have some of the league’s smallest payrolls, so they’re all but out of this conversation. You can also count out the A’s and Indians for payroll reasons.
The Royals have added a few veterans in free agency but like the Orioles and Tigers aren’t in position to make a major win-now move. The Mariners have a top farm system that could entice the Cubs but are at least one year from contending.
Yankees, White Sox, Rangers
Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela is arbitration eligible through 2023 and outfielder Clint Frazier through 2024, not to mention they have All-Star outfield/DH guys in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. They’re looking for a lefty bat this winter anyhow. (Hello, Kyle Schwarber?)
Acquiring Bryant would further cement the White Sox as an AL pennant favorite in 2021. But they have rising stars at third and in left field, recently signed Adam Eaton to play right and also have more of a need for a lefty bat.
Texas, who also was involved in Bryant trade rumors last winter, needs offensive upgrades but is rebuilding. They just traded their ace to the White Sox.
Padres, Twins, Angels, Rockies
The Padres (Manny Machado), Twins (Josh Donaldson), Rockies (Nolan Arenado) and Angels (Anthony Rendon) all have third basemen signed to lucrative deals. Bryant can play outfield, but the Angels have Mike Trout and Justin Upton signed for multiple years, top prospect Jo Adell in the mix, and a greater need for starting pitching.
The Twins recently non-tendered left fielder Eddie Rosario but have near-big-league-ready top outfield prospects. They also may retain DH Nelson Cruz and have a few rotation vacancies, so adding Bryant may not fit their priorities. If they don’t retain Cruz, perhaps Minnesota could be a long-shot option.
Bryant would be an upgrade in left for the Padres over Tommy Pham and San Diego has an enviable farm system. Going after Bryant to give a Dodgers for their money in the NL West could make sense but consider that a long shot for payroll reasons.
The Rockies and the Cubs engaged in trade talks last offseason involving Arenado, but Colorado is cutting its payroll and may trade Arenado. Adding Bryant — even in exchange for Arenado, hypothetically, wouldn’t make sense.
New Phillies president Dave Dombrowski has a track record of spending in free agency and making aggressive trades. However, Philadelphia is a lot like the Cubs in the sense they have good players on their roster and want to win in 2021 while keeping the long-term in mind.
Dombrowski recently said Philadelphia has a “flexibility of finances” but not an unlimited amount and he doesn’t view the club as being one player away from winning: “And I really don't want to be sacrificing people that might be part of our future success for short-term gains if it's not the difference-maker in trying to be a championship club,” he added.
Bryant would be one difference-maker and is close with Bryce Harper, but the Phillies have other priorities — shortstop and the bullpen, and All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto is a free agent.
The Nationals were connected to Bryant in trade rumors last winter after losing Rendon in free agency. Those rumors resurfaced last month, and while Bryant would fit and help a Nationals team with an open title window, sources indicated to NBC Sports Chicago a trade is unlikely.
Astros, Red Sox, Giants
While Houston has Alex Bregman at third base, two of their star outfielders are free agents in George Springer and Michael Brantley. If they can’t retain one, or especially either, acquiring Bryant to play left or right would be another nice option.
Houston’s farm system is ranked near the bottom of baseball after years of win-now moves, so whether they can offer a reasonable package is uncertain.
The Red Sox and Giants each have third basemen (Rafael Devers, Evan Longoria) under club control but the payroll flexibility to add salary. Both are potential examples of absorbing money through a trade to gain long-term assets.
The Giants did this last winter, taking on Zack Cozart’s contract in a deal with the Angels while also acquiring 2019 first-round pick Will Willson. They released Cozart a month later.
In this case, the question is whether the Cubs are willing to do that and if there’s a needle to thread on both sides. Again, the Cubs won’t move Bryant for nothing, so although this scenario could offer payroll relief, it would go against their goal of keeping a long-term outlook in mind.
Toronto’s window of contention is opening and adding a World Series champ to the mix never hurts. It could even present a reunion of sorts, as the Blue Jays drafted Bryant in the 18th round of the 2010 draft before he opted to go to college.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. debuted in 2019 as a third baseman before the Jays used him solely at first and as a DH in 2020. He wants to play third in 2020 and there is an opening — the Jays non-tendered third baseman Travis Shaw. Whether Guerrero returns to the hot corner is to be seen, and we at least know he and Bryant are versatile.
The Blue Jays roster has several versatile players, including left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — who has experience at second base and shortstop — and second baseman Cavan Biggio, who has outfield experience. They also have the DH at their expense, and with a top 10 farm system could offer prospects in a potential deal to give the Cubs long-term assets.
Whether Toronto would move prospects for potentially one year of Bryant is another question.
Bryant has one more year of club control and Atlanta has added big-name players on one-year deals the past two winters in Josh Donaldson and Marcell Ozuna. The Braves were seen as a potential landing spot for the Cubs third baseman last offseason, after Donaldson hit the open market.
This time around, less prospect capital would be needed to pull off a deal due to Bryant's contract status. Atlanta could bring back Ozuna in free agency and play 23-year-old Austin Riley at third. But if Ozuna signs elsewhere, the Braves could fill the middle of their lineup with Bryant. He and Riley can play both third and left.
Atlanta made a ton of sense as a Bryant trade partner last winter and could make just as much sense this time around.
Mets new owner Steve Cohen is ready to spend, and the club gained an extra $24 million following Robinson Cano’s suspension for PEDs. In fact, a fan asked on Twitter if the Mets could use that money on bullpen carts, and
Cohen replied, “spend it on players, bullpen cart can wait.”
Cano is a second baseman, but there’s a way to plug Bryant into the Mets’ lineup. J.D. Davis. can play third and left field, and Jeff McNeil has experience playing left and second.
Although Cohen said the Mets won’t spend “like drunken sailors,” they plan to be aggressive. They can accomplish that via the free agent market (DJ LeMahieu, George Springer) and avoid giving up any prospects from a farm system ranked in the bottom third of baseball.
But from a financial standpoint, the Mets are one team that certainly can take on Bryant’s salary, and they’d gain an impact player in the process.
What’s the best way for the Dodgers, who have two former MVPs in their lineup already, to defend their championship next season? Adding another MVP sure is one idea.
Longtime Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner is a free agent, 36 years old and missed extended time to injury the past few seasons. The Dodgers have weathered that with their depth, and in any case, may bring back Turner — a leader in their clubhouse.
But if they don’t re-sign Turner, they have an elite farm system they can dip into to pull off a trade, whether that’s for Francisco Lindor — therefore moving Corey Seager to third base — or maybe even Bryant. We’ve seen the Dodgers make big trades for players on expiring contracts in recent years, like Yu Darvish and Manny Machado.
Bryant would fit well within Los Angeles’ versatile positional player group. They have prospects that could interest the Cubs. If they don’t bring back Turner, Bryant is an interesting option.
If Hoyer’s comment featured earlier didn’t indicate it enough, the Cubs trading Bryant this winter isn’t a given. The offseason has gotten off to a slow start and that’s expected to continue as more information becomes available on COVID-19 vaccines.
Teams can’t forecast their revenues until they know more about 2021 fan attendance, hence why the Cubs have a
payroll “range” for 2021. Opening Day’s date isn’t set in stone by any means, and there’s still uncertainty about 2021 roster sizes and whether a universal DH will return, which affects player transactions.
No, Bryant remaining a Cub come Opening Day isn’t far-fetched. He’d have a chance to rebuild his value after his down 2020. And at that point, the Cubs could still trade him within the season, before the trade deadline, should they so desire. He's also a big part of their success.
Just realize pulling off a trade — this winter especially — is far easier said than done.