When you throw out a title like “Cubs open to trading 3B Kris Bryant,” it’s going to get all the clicks. And while there is certainly some room to maneuver within the conceptual parameters of Theo Epstein saying nothing is off the table this winter, it sure feels as though Buster Olney grabbed hold of a loose thread and just ran with it until there was nothing left of the sweater but a pile of yarn.
Yes, Bryant had a down year as the result of a nagging shoulder injury and yes, the Cubs have been unable to extend him beyond the contractual control they’re granted via the arbitration process. But just because they have made it known that they’re willing to talk trades for nearly everyone on the roster doesn’t mean Bryant is someone they’re willing to part with.
And that’s where we get to the crux of the difference here between pragmatism and sensationalism. Just because the Cubs aren’t flat-out saying someone is untouchable does not mean they’d actually deal them.
“We’ve never operated with untouchables,” Epstein said when asked about Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. “It sends the wrong message. Given what we’re trying to accomplish, it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them. I just don’t believe in untouchables. Why limit yourself?”
Did you catch the part in there about it being “virtually impossible to envision the deal” for either franchise cornerstone? You know, the part that takes all the wind out of Olney’s sails? There is a massive gulf between not telling someone to F off if they ask to talk about a player and then actually being willing to trade that player.
Even with a huge raise, which probably won’t happen because of his muted statistical output in 2018, Bryant is a generational talent who has already captured Rookie of the Year and MVP awards with the Cubs. Oh, then there’s that World Series thing too. And at a salary that figures to be somewhere around $15 million, maybe less, having a healthy Bryant for a season is an absolute steal. Yes, even if the Cubs have gotten all budget-conscious.
In fact, one could argue that the Cubs’ reported frugality is all the more reason to keep Bryant. Trading him might save a little money, but it would drastically reduce the viability of their competitive window at a point when it should be as wide open as ever. There’s no way you get back MLB-ready players who can immediately impact the team’s fortunes as much as Bryant can, which means picking up high-value prospects who don’t cost as much.
But, again, when you’re talking about an elite player who’s making $7 million less than the qualifying offer, a trade just to save money would be the most asinine move possible. Factor in the shoulder, which is fully healthy but untested, and you’re talking reduced value from unknown risk. Even if the resultant haul of talent ends up meeting expectations, the savings from one escalating contract would be completely mitigated by the cost of several others.
And the idea that David Bote could serve as a long-term replacement for Bryant is just…I mean…I can’t. Bote was awesome for the Cubs last year and he authored one of the greatest regular-season moments in recent memory, but it’s impossible to overlook the drop-off that occurred once MLB pitchers got the book on him.
Then to compare the possibility of trading a 26-year-old Bryant to the reality of Epstein’s trades of Nomar Garciaparra (30) and Manny Ramirez (36) is downright irresponsible. I’m just going to leave off now because continuing to lambaste this concept might have me tossing my computer across the room.
Rizzo and Epstein took turns shooting down Olney’s laughable report Friday evening, which was nice to see.
“I answered a general question about whether we have untouchables,” Epstein said. “Like most every organization, we will listen to anything, but that’s just an operating philosophy.
“We are lucky to have some impact players and we are looking to add to them, not subtract.”