Cubs Being ‘Open-Minded’ About Trades Doesn’t Mean They’re Itching to Move Kris Bryant

When Theo Epstein said during Monday’s end-of-season presser that the Cubs would be open-minded about trades, it was an open invitation for the speculation machine to get cranking. Not that he was saying anything new, since he’s maintained for years that there’s no such thing as an untouchable player, but a little wrinkle of specificity really got folks going.

By adding that the Cubs would pursue long-term extensions with some players, and that the failure to agree to terms would make trades more plausible, Epstein threw the door wide open. Without giving undeserved clicks anywhere, a certain Forbes writer who none of the actual beat writers really saw in the clubhouse this season took that to mean that Epstein will “strongly consider” trading Kris Bryant and/or Javy Báez this winter.

Of course, that’s not terribly different from Buster Olney reporting that the Cubs were ready to move Bryant last winter. Listen, I get it from a marketing perspective. Writing that the Cubs will consider making trades in general isn’t sexy. So it’s not surprising that the Tribune tweeted out a link to a Mark Gonzales column by teasing that Bryant will “probably not” be on the roster next season, since that’s more interesting than Kyle Ryan being back.

Teasing a blockbuster trade is titillating and drives conversation at a time when Cubs fans can do little else but hope the Cardinals join the Brewers in watching the playoffs. Beyond that, there’s not much solid baseball rationale behind it. Well, at least not in what we’re seeing so far. Gonzales notes that moving Bryant would address needs, but that’s like saying you could afford to upgrade your water heater and get some new kitchen appliances by selling your car.

Unless Epstein himself signs an extension, he’s only got two years left on his own deal. And while he may not be looking to leave the cupboard bare for the next guy, if indeed he moves on after 10 years with the Cubs, this isn’t a situation in which he can afford to punt. So unless he’s able to get back more immediate value than what Bryant himself provides — which is A LOT — a trade makes little sense.

With two years left on his rookie deal, the Cubs are in no hurry to move on even if they don’t sign Bryant to an extension this season. Things might be different if they were in full rebuild mode and had a few years to take a gamble on a cache of prospects, but that is simply not the case at this point. As they did with Jake Arrieta, who said for two years that he wasn’t going to sign an extension, they could very well ride this thing out.

Will they listen to offers? Of course, because that’s what Epstein has always said is the case for everyone on their roster. But the asking price is going to be astronomical, so it’s incredibly unlikely any team would be willing or able to meet it.

“I do think Kris Bryant will be available and have very little doubt about that, but I have trouble believing the Cubs will find what they’re looking for in return,” MLB Network’s Jon Morosi told 670 The Score this week. “There will be conversations, no doubt about it, but I’m not sold we see Kris Bryant moved this offseason.”

Only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts have generated more wins above replacement than Bryant since 2015, and that’s with KB missing significant time and having his power sapped by last season’s shoulder injury. Even with a bad knee hampering him throughout the second half this season, Bryant’s 135 wRC+ was three points higher than Nolan Arenado has ever posted.

We’ve already made the case for the Cubs to consider an extension for Bryant similar to the one Arenado inked this past season, something the Cubs’ star said he’d be open to. It’s really just a matter of how willing the Cubs are to make such a deal, something you’d think the prospect of increased revenues from Marquee Sports Network would have a great influence over.

Marquee’s carriage deals may not be sorted out until the start of the 2020 season, which means the big money probably won’t roll in for at least another year. But increased salary from a Bryant extension would begin after his current deal, when the money should jump. Other deals falling off the books could help to mitigate the unavoidable luxury tax implications in the meantime, all of which could fall by the wayside once a new CBA is negotiated following the 2021 season. Again, that’s after Epstein’s own contract is up.

Just for the sake of argument, though, let’s say the Cubs do get serious about listening to offers. Which team makes the most sense as a trade partner?

“Texas,” Morosi claimed. “Easily the Texas Rangers.”

Wait, seriously? I get that the two teams have done a lot of business over the years and have like-minded front offices, but do the Rangers really have the kind of package that could really make the Cubs better? Maybe if the Cubs weren’t still trying to go for it over the next two seasons, I guess.

To be fair, Morosi was also being asked about Willson Contreras when he gave that response, so take that for what it’s worth. Even if we were to make a list of our own — which I’m not going to do here because that’s not my jam — it’d be a short one. You’d be looking at contenders with a two-year window that also possess a wealth of MLB-ready prospects, including controllable pitching.

After weighing the value of a bird in the hand against those in the bush, however, it’s just so difficult to imagine the Cubs parting with Bryant. Oh, and don’t forget about the other aspect of Marquee, which is that it needs star power in its first season. Coming off a disappointing season in which they closed things out by dropping 10 of their last 12 games, it wouldn’t behoove the Cubs to trade away one of their most marketable players.

Then again, Epstein isn’t beholden to the television side of things and business ops team hasn’t necessarily made the best choices over the last several years. So who the hell knows what’s happening. All I know is that trading Kris Bryant at this point is far more likely to make the Cubs demonstrably worse than it is to improve their outlook over the remainder of their competitive window. So, you know, they should not do it.

I challenge you to find a more articulate argument than that on the matter.

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