When Jon Morosi first floated the idea of the Cubs looming as a possible Nolan Arenado suitor should they end up trading Kris Bryant, it seemed dubious. Not only can Arenado opt out of his deal after 2021, but his $32.5 million AAV in the meantime would represent a massive payroll bump for a team that has actively avoided even bargain contracts this offseason. However, a new report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan lends credence to the rumors and adds another wrinkle to boot.
The Cubs would make sense if they move Bryant. They are not primed for some sort of a rebuild as much as a refresh or reboot — an always-difficult needle to thread, particularly if they hope to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. One source characterized the Cubs as doing due diligence, as they’ve done throughout the winter with myriad trade conversations, but the notion of trading catcher Willson Contreras and a higher-priced, underperforming player in an Arenado deal, then flipping Bryant to revitalize a mediocre farm system, squares in the short and long term.
Rather than flipping Bryant for prospects and then turning around and sending some of those same prospects to Colorado, Passan is indicating that they could potentially swing the Arenado deal first. It’s unclear whether his source was responsible for including Contreras in the mix, though my sense in reading it is that it’s merely a case of connecting the dots and making an educated proposal. Perhaps that’s why Passan only describes Jason Heyward very clearly without actually coming out and naming him.
I suppose it’s possible the “higher-priced, underperforming player” could be someone else, but do the Cubs really have another player who really fits the description?
The idea of including either Bryant or Contreras as an enticement to move Heyward’s deal isn’t new, but it had seemed ludicrous if the goal was simply to slash payroll. In this case, though, the idea is that it would both lower payroll and get the Rockies to part with Arenado without having to throw in additional prospects. Well, that’s how it looks based on the thumbnail sketch being presented.
Trading Heyward, Bryant, and Contreras would clear something in the neighborhood of $46 million in payroll obligations, so even taking on Arenado’s salary would leave them roughly $14 million to add more players. Would that be enough to lure Nicholas Castellanos back? Perhaps the better question is whether a combination of Arenado and Castellanos is better than the three players the Cubs would have traded away at a nearly identical cost.
Certainly doesn’t seem like an improvement to me, though Castellanos might not be in the picture at all. The Cubs have always maintained a little wiggle room for mid-season acquisitions, something that wouldn’t be possible given the situation above. And if the organization spent all winter trying to get under the $208 million competitive balance tax threshold only to go over with a trade during the season, well, that would be a little odd.
It’s also impossible to dismiss Arenado’s home/road splits, like an OPS that is nearly 200 points lower away from Coors (.866 to 1.057) and a wRC+ that is 19 points worse (118 to 137). Maybe that plays up at Wrigley, but is that a gamble the Cubs are willing to take in addition to the possibility that Arenado would walk after two seasons?
There are any number of different iterations that could play out here, including the Cubs doing nothing at all, so running through all of them would be a tad futile. And as fun as it is to debate on Twitter, swinging two blockbuster trades in relatively short order seems far-fetched. Then again, seeing them do next to nothing for the second year in a row would have seemed like a stretch following the 2018 season.
So what do you think, Dear Reader: Is the idea of bundling Contreras and Heyward for Arenado, then turning around and flipping Bryant for prospects a bridge too far or a path to glory? Or is it simply a lateral move?