Kris Bryant‘s immediate future is becoming clearer as we approach the non-tender deadline. This morning, multiple reports surfaced from national sources detailing potential development for the star slugger before his contract year in 2021.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported that the Cubs will indeed tender the 28-year-old a contract ahead of Wednesday’s non-tender deadline, noting that Bryant is still a trade target for the Washington Nationals. Heyman also cited the San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Mets as potentially interested suitors for Bryant’s services.
His colleague at MLB Network, Jon Morosi, took it a step further shortly after, reporting that it’s unlikely Bryant will be traded before Wednesday’s 7:00 pm (CT) deadline. However, he also noted Bryant’s market will become clearer shortly thereafter. Morosi expects league-wide activity to increase beginning Thursday.
With Bryant a likely trade candidate for the Cubs, and the White Sox in search of a right-fielder for at least the 2021 season, the idea of a crosstown swap for Bryant has been bandied about on Twitter.
Even Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey, and David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago discussed the idea on a recent episode of the White Sox Talk podcast.
So, Cubs’ columnist and Deputy EIC Austin Bloomberg and I decided to join the conversation and collaborate on a story discussing what a potential Bryant-to-the-Southside deal might look like.
From a White Sox Perspective
Bryant is a one-year rental for the White Sox — or whoever trades for him this winter — with a projected 2021 salary of somewhere in the ballpark of $18.6 million, making a rather expensive one-year rental.
While Bryant is primarily a third baseman, he has played 1,083 innings in the outfield with 426 of them coming in right field. Defensively Bryant has just six DRS in his 1,083 innings in the outfield with a UZR/150 of -1.5.
Nomar Mazara wasn’t exactly a Gold Glove candidate in right field for the White Sox in 2020, and his offensive output was so atrocious that Bryant adapting to a new full-time position in right field would still be an overall upgrade just given his potential at the dish.
Bryant’s career .888 OPS would be a huge upgrade over anything that the White Sox have had in right field in recent years, even if for only one season.
From a Cubs Perspective
It’s plain insulting that a franchise cornerstone — a former ROY and MVP, no less — seems destined to be traded this winter, especially from a big-market club that assumes to compete in ’21. It’s an especially damning reality considering they’re shopping him at his lowest possible value to date.
2020 was an abysmal season for KB, who hit just .206/.293/.351 with 4 HR, a wRC+ of 75, and .285 wOBA, yielding a shockingly low 0.5 fWAR. It’s fair to believe his nagging injuries — coupled with the vagaries of a 60-game season — derailed his season more than anything, and a look around the league at other superstars (Christian Yelich, Yoan Moncada, et al) supports that argument.
Still, Bryant is a one-year rental, coming off his career-worst season, with consecutive seasons of small injuries that have piled up. Add in a salary of $18-$20 million, and the Cubs have little leverage in a trade. Their only ammunition is that the baseball world still views Bryant as a stud. There are also enough teams kicking the tires on him that the return might be palatable — without having to pick up any of his rather large tab in the process.
As Patrick notes, Bryant is a passable defender in right field, and with full-time experience I imagine he would present as slightly-better-than-average in the outfield. That said, the White Sox only care about his bat, and his career .280/.380/.508 slash and 136 wRC+ is a good barometer in ’21 for a player with a chip on his shoulder and a big payday to think about.
In return, the Cubs will want someone who can contribute right now, along with a prospect or two that shows some promise. It’s anyone’s guess what those pieces might ultimately look like.
Patrick Flowers: Baseball Trade Values lists Bryant’s median estimated trade value at 5.3, with his low-high end estimation ranging from 4.2 to 6.4.
Overall considering Bryant’s availability, his recent track record, his projected salary in 2021, and the fact that he’s a one-year rental — I have to agree with their assessment.
I would start with an initial offer of right-handed pitcher Jonathan Stiever (median estimated value of 4.7) and outfielder Micker Adolfo (median estimated value of 3.0). Even if you’re using Bryant’s high estimation of 6.4 there’s value on the Cubs’ end receiving a combined value of 7.7 with the package of Stiever and Adolfo.
The Cubs snag the White Sox’s No. 7 prospect in Stiever, and Adolfo is ranked No. 9 in the system according to MLB Pipeline. A starting pitcher and a corner outfielder with plenty of control seem like a good start.
Austin Bloomberg: The Cubs are in a position where patience is truly a virtue. Trading Bryant before George Springer is signed would be a mistake, unless they are overwhelmed with an offer. And with the Winter Meetings yet to take place, and Spring Training still months away, there’s plenty of time to assess the development of KB’s market.
To trade Bryant crosstown would require an added tax (think Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for Jose Quintana). Even though Bryant’s value is currently low, they should be able to hold out for a bit of an overpay; this is especially true for their Chicago counterpart.
Per Baseball Trade Values, Bryant’s high value of 6.4 should be the baseline in negotiations. The Cubs should hold out for value that exceeds that without committing any money; they can also use a middling prospect if necessary to boost the return.
Let’s aim a bit high to start: White Sox send RHP Jared Kelley (Sox No. 6 prospect, 6.0 median trade value), RHP Matthew Thompson (No. 8, 4.1 trade value), and utility infielder Danny Mendick (4.3 value) for Bryant and Catcher Ethan Hearn (Cubs’ No. 14 prospect, 6.6 median value).
In this scenario the Cubs net a team controlled utility infielder to replace Bryant on the roster in ’21 while netting two pitchers — one potential Ace and one potential back-end starter.
They sweeten the deal by adding the 20-year-old Hearn, a left-handed hitting catcher with power and enough defensive chops behind the dish for the big leagues. His inclusion makes sense considering the Cubs have organizational catching depth, while the White Sox could use quality catching prospects in their system.
This is valued as a minor overpay by the White Sox, but again, I believe they’ll have to overpay in order to make a deal.
Counter-offers and Rebuttal
Patrick Flowers: While Hearn is an intriguing prospect as a complimentary piece to Bryant, he fell to the sixth round in 2019 as the highest-rated prep catcher heading into the draft, and he struggled in his pro ball debut towards the end of 2019.
If the Cubs want Kelley and Mendick in the deal, I’m going to need something else to balance the swap out. Let’s say reliever Burl Carraway (Cubs No. 10 on MLB Pipeline’s Top-30) in addition to Hearn and Bryant for Kelley, Mendick, and Thompson?
The Cubs address their positional player need to be created by Bryant’s departure with a cost-controlled Mendick and acquire a pair of talented future starters in the top-rated prep arm in the 2020 draft class (Kelley), and the 45th overall selection in the 2019 draft (Thompson).
Austin Bloomberg: Carraway is a non-starter. The Cubs drafted him with the knowledge he is likely to develop into a high-end reliever, and a trade of Bryant will not include subtracting from the pitching prospects they so desperately need to curate.
That said, asking for Jared Kelley was a tall order, and understandably shot down given Bryant’s rental status. Let’s remove him for the originally proposed Jonathan Stiever.
Stiever, Thompson, and Mendick for Bryant and Hearn satisfy the original intent for the Cubs and Sox alike. Stiever doesn’t have Kelley’s pedigree, but since he already made his MLB debut he provides an immediate depth option for a Cubs rotation in sore need of an identity behind Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish. The White Sox, on the other hand, get an elite talent to plug into right field without sacrificing Kelley, and receive catching depth for the future to boot.
For what it’s worth, Baseball Trade Values calls this a ‘fair deal’ and accepts the trade — even though it remains a slight overpay for the Sox.
Deal or No-Deal?
Patrick Flowers: While admittedly I never thought that you would go for Burl Carraway, my hope was to drive down the ask a little bit. Replacing Kelley with Stiever makes the deal worth it to me, and quite frankly makes it a deal that addresses needs at both the major league and minor league level for both sides.
We can alert Wetbutt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole of the deal and let them break the news on Reddit as they did with the Jimenez/Cease-Quintana deal back in 2017. I’m sure Cubs fans will be much happier with the return this time around.
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