All winter, the trade rumors have focused mostly on Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor, and for good reason — they’re two of the game’s top 10-15 players. One name that has been on the periphery has been Kris Bryant, who is one of the game’s best right-handed hitters. With a Betts and/or Lindor trade looking less and less likely, the Dodgers (and other teams) could turn to the Cubs looking for a big splash.
Bryant, 28, was the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP. He’s coming off a 4.8-win season that saw him hit .282/.382/.521 with a 135 wRC+. For his career, he has a .284/.385/.516 line with a 139 wRC+. And for some reason, he has drawn the ire of Cubs’ fans. It’s rare that players of Bryant’s caliber become available (and I’ve said the same thing about Betts and Lindor), so it would be wise if the Dodgers jumped at the opportunity to get him. If they did get him, though, it may not be strictly to play third base.
We’ve heard a lot this offseason about Justin Turner‘s slipping defense and how it might push him across the diamond to play more first base. And that still could happen if Bryant were acquired, but Bryant’s defense at the hot corner is trending the wrong direction as well. He topped out at +4 defensive runs saved in 2016 and has posted a +1, -2 and -7 in the last three seasons. Luckily for him, he has positional versatility, which we know the Dodgers covet in their players. He can play all three other corner positions at an average-or-better clip, so that plays into his favor a bit.
Regardless, the Dodgers would be acquiring him for his bat. He hits home runs, he gets on base and he’s not a guy the Dodgers would need to platoon. Here are Bryant’s MLB rankings since 2015.
That is a really good player, and those numbers are hampered a bit by a 2018 season that saw his power dip because of a shoulder injury (.188 ISO). Fortunately, he seems to have regained his power stroke (.239 ISO in 2019).
The biggest obstacle in acquiring Bryant is not the fact that he’s a former MVP and a potential franchise player, it’s his service time grievance.
“The Major League Baseball Players Association, on behalf of Kris Bryant, filed a grievance that will be heard this week regarding the alleged manipulation of his service time that prevents him from becoming a free agent until after the 2021 season. This decision could affect Bryant’s future as well as that of the Cubs, who already must decide whether to try to sign him to an extension this winter or trade him to assure themselves of compensation before free agency.”
The prevailing thought is yes, the Cubs absolutely manipulated his service time but no, his free agency will not be expedited. Meaning, Bryant is more than likely to be under team control for the next two seasons, which increases his trade value.
Despite that, the Cubs — like the Red Sox — are looking to slash payroll to get under the luxury tax, which is a ridiculous sentence that is 100 percent accurate. That’s the only reason Bryant is available via trade, as he is projected to make $18.5 million in arbitration and more than $20 million next winter. If the Dodgers are going to actually end up over the luxury tax, as proclaimed by Stan Kasten, this would be a significant step toward doing that. So, let’s put together a few packages.
To CHC: Tony Gonsolin, Chris Taylor, Robinson Ortiz
To LA: Bryant
This would give the Cubs a cost-controlled pitcher to plug into the rotation in Gonsolin, a versatile defender in Taylor who could help all over the diamond and a low-level lottery ticket. They’d be saving about $13.5 million against the luxury tax for 2020.
To CHC: Jeter Downs, Dennis Santana, Jacob Amaya
To LA: Bryant
This is the prospect-only package that would save the Cubs the most money. Downs could be their future second baseman who has positional versatility like Javier Baez and Nico Hoerner. Santana could find his way into the Cubs’ rotation or bullpen and Amaya would be a lower-level middle infield lottery ticket.
To CHC: Joc Pederson, Josiah Gray, Omar Estevez
To LA: Bryant
This is intriguing because the monetary savings wouldn’t be terribly high, but the Cubs would get an impact left-handed hitter in Pederson and the 2nd-best pitching prospect in the Dodgers’ system in Gray. They’d also get a bat-first middle infield prospect in Estevez, who is coming off another solid season. They’d only save about $10 million on this, but Gray could be a rotation fixture starting as early as 2021 and Pederson should net them a draft pick if they don’t re-sign him.
Look, the could just sign Josh Donaldson, but that would increase the odds of Corey Seager getting traded significantly. Ken Rosenthal reported the Reds have had interest in Seager all offseason. So, this is what it would come down to:
Trade For Bryant
-Less likely (but still possible) Seager is traded
-Lose significant prospects
-Prime years Bryant
-Only costs money, plus loss of 2020 2nd-rounder and $500,000 in 2020-21 international signing money
-Seager likelier to be traded
-Keep significant prospects
-Longer-term commitment for older player
Either move would be fine with me. Both Bryant and Donaldson are elite-level players who could affect the top of the Dodgers’ roster. So, let’s just prepare for neither to happen.