Scoping the return for a Kris Bryant trade
This is a guest article by BTV user and Cubs fan rw64
After a second straight year of playoff disappointment, major changes loom large on the North Side of Chicago. While the Cubs still have intentions of being competitive in 2020, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein ominously stated that no player is untouchable. Expectations are that at least one major player will be moved, with plenty of speculation that it will be Kris Bryant [27.0] . While Cubs fans seem to understand why such a move may be necessary, they may be overestimating what a potential package for Bryant could look like, so let’s take a look at what BTV thinks the return could be for the 27-year old former MVP.
Bryant is a very valuable player, with an adjusted field value of 67.8 over the remaining two years of his contract. This value could be higher, but his last two seasons have been disappointing compared with his first three. Furthermore, he has been prone to injuries, including missing major time in 2018, and there are questions about if third base is his long-term position. Lastly, diminishing his value is the crop of free agent third basemen this offseason that teams looking for a player at this position can sign without having to give up anything in the process.
Editor’s note: The biggest reason his trade value seems low is because he’s due to earn $46M over the next two years. His early success led to setting a relatively high number in his first year of arbitration, and that will compound: he’s estimated by MLBTR to make $18.5M in 2020, which sets him up for a whopping $27.75M in 2021 (assuming current trends hold). So whoever might acquire him would already take a big budget hit. The Cubs would surely demand trade capital on top of that, but it would be unreasonable to assume a big number there as well.
Furthermore, he and super-agent Scott Boras will undoubtedly be testing the free agent market after the 2022 season. Even if teams believe they could sign him to an extension after trading for him, it will certainly cost them. (For the sake of this article, we assume that Bryant’s current grievance is not successful and that any team that receives him is doing so for two years.)
These facts essentially make Kris Bryant a high-priced rental, meaning that any potential trade partner would need to be in “win-now” mode to justify trading for Bryant.
In return for Bryant, we assume the Cubs would seek to address their key needs: a center fielder, a back-end starting pitcher, relief pitching, a dependable leadoff hitter, or prospects. The last one may seem confusing considering we stated that the Cubs would still like to be competitive in 2020, but a combination of 1) a farm system that is ranked 28th in our minor-league trade value rankings, 2) three major contract expirations after the 2022 season, and 3) internal positional replacements make this an opportune time to load up on future talent.
So, we believe the below teams are possible trade partners that could be in need of a third baseman as well as comfortable with Bryant possibly leaving after two years.
Maybe no team is more desperate to win than the Phillies, and after a disappointing 2019 season, they could be interested in Bryant to replace Maikel Franco  , who was optioned to AAA in August. The Phillies have several prospects that could interest the Cubs such as shortstop Bryson Stott [21.6] or pitcher Adonis Medina [8.7] .
On the big-league roster, Franco replacement Scott Kingery [20.1] or outfielder Adam Haseley [12.5] are young players that could interest the Cubs. Kingery has been compared to Ben Zobrist as an on-field Swiss army knife, but unlike the high-OBP Zobrist, his 28% strikeout rate would give the Cubs pause. Haseley was called up due to injuries and immediately had an impact as an outstanding defender, but has work to do at the plate, including lowering a similarly high 25% strikeout rate. Both young players would come with multiple years of affordable control and could grow into their roles behind an experienced Cubs roster.
The Phillies’ top prospect, Alec Bohm [27.6] , is most likely their long-term third base hope, and they have plenty of internal depth to fill the position, but if the Phillies want to be all-in the next two seasons, their best chance may be trading for Bryant.
The Nationals, if they cannot come to terms on a new contract with Anthony Rendon, are the most in need of a third baseman as they have no internal candidates to fill the position unless top SS prospect Carter Kieboom switches over to 3B. They could offer a package of their third-ranked prospect, pitcher Jackson Rutledge [11.4] , starting pitcher Austin Voth [5.9] , and infield prospect Drew Mendoza [6.6] if they’d like to compete for back-to-back titles. The Nationals may be reluctant to trade Voth, who pitched well in eight starts in 2019, with Stephen Strasburg’s future with the team uncertain. Further, if Strasburg leaves along with Rendon, the Nationals may choose to not be as aggressive in pursuing a trade. Lastly, we’re unsure if the Cubs would like to trade one of their best players to a team that they could possibly face in the playoffs.
While it appears that the Braves are going to try hard to re-sign a reinvigorated Josh Donaldson, if he finds a better suitor, they could offer a package of outfielder Ender Inciarte [5.5] , reliever Sean Newcomb [13.0] , and infielder Johan Camargo [7.1] . Inciarte would give the Cubs a Gold Glover in center field, and Camargo would fill the gap at third as well as offer optionality elsewhere around the diamond.
Importantly, only one qualified Cubs batter had a contact rate higher than those two, something that the Cubs would certainly appreciate in the lineup. However, both had injury-plagued years, and Inciarte’s best days may be behind him.
Also, the Braves have an internal replacement option in Austin Riley, who played outfield in 2019 but came up as a third baseman. Similar to the Phillies, if the Braves would like to get over the Divisional Series hump, perhaps the best way to do so is trading for Bryant. This is outside of the scope of this article, but with Brian McCann’s retirement and Tyler Flowers looking more like a back-up, the Cubs could also include either Willson Contreras [16.2] or Victor Caratini [13.3] to the Braves to sweeten the deal and get some additional return.
Another NL East team – what’s going on in this division? The Mets’ 2019 third baseman, Todd Frazier, is a free agent and is most likely parting ways with the team, and with all intentions on building on a very successful 86-win season, the Mets could opt to trade for Bryant.
The Mets have a pair of top-100 infielder prospects in Andres Gimenez [18.4] and Brett Baty [18.0] , who could be the highlight of a package. However, the Mets have an internal candidate in J.D. Davis, who played left field in 2019 but is a natural third baseman. Davis could also be traded for Bryant, but his poor defense in both the outfield and at third base is not what the Cubs need at the moment, after having the third-most errors in the MLB last season.
The Rangers have understandably had a tough time filling the shoes of Adrian Beltre since he retired last season, having some of the worst performance at third base in 2019. Bryant would immediately fill that gap and add a marquee name to the roster that is going to be playing in a new stadium come next season.
Additionally, the Rangers have the advantage of being an AL team, which would a preferable trade partner versus the above NL rivals, and these two teams do have a history of transacting together. However, in a division that includes the Astros and Athletics, as well as multiple third basemen in their farm system, we think the Rangers would be wise to wait another year or two before making a trade of this caliber.
This is essentially a non-starter as trading Bryant to their NL Central-rival Brewers to replace Mike Moustakas would require a massive haul to justify it. Additionally, the Brewers’ farm system is in even worse shape than the Cubs, ranking dead last, and while Lorenzo Cain [-14.9] would appear to be a potential candidate to address two of the Cubs needs as a leadoff-hitting center fielder, his disappointing season both at the plate and defensively has diminished his value.
Wait a minute – didn’t this team just sign a third baseman last season to a huge contract? Yes, the Padres did sign Manny Machado, who isn’t leaving that position anytime soon. However, with Padres GM A.J. Preller on the hot seat, could he make a trade for Bryant, who played college ball at the University of San Diego, and stick him in the outfield?
The Padres have multiple pitchers such as Dinelson Lamet [25.9] , Cal Quantrill [14.0] , and Michel Baez [8.0] , who would immediately bolster the Cubs’ pitching efforts. Or, the Padres can make use of their top-rated farm and send some prospects. Overall, we don’t think this is very likely, but stranger things have happened than a GM making a desperate, pressure-caused trade.
While the above proposals are fair according to our trade values as well as our assumptions in what each team would be looking for, we feel that Cubs fans would be massively disappointed with any of the returns for Bryant. We’ve seen Cubs blogs post proposals which include pitchers Max Fried [58.6] and Noah Syndergaard [75.7] and top 15 prospect Christian Pache [79.1] , all of whom have value much higher than Bryant, and would likely be unattainable even if the Cubs kicked in money to cover Bryant’s anticipated high salary.
These expectations, coupled with the pressure Epstein and the front office face to receive a massive haul after a string of bad trades in which they traded away current stars Eloy Jimenez [90.1] and Gleyber Torres [112.7] for what in hindsight was an inadequate return, makes it unlikely that Bryant is going to call any place other than the Friendly Confines home next season.