While it first seemed as though the recent MLB.com report of the Nationals’ interest in Kris Bryant were merely being recycled from a year ago, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post recently lent some credence to the idea. He wrote that Washington is “again exploring a trade” as a means by which to boost the offense at a position that was essentially held down by committee in 2020.
After losing Anthony Rendon in free agency, the Nats opted to give the hot corner to rookie Carter Kieboom. He was optioned to the team’s alternate site after batting .200 with no homers in his first 64 plate appearance and eventually came back to a timeshare that included Asdrubal Cabrera and Josh Harrison. After that trio combined for -0.1 fWAR, GM Mike Rizzo may be looking for an upgrade.
Enter Bryant, who was reportedly the subject of discussions that went nowhere last season when the Nats wouldn’t budge on requests to include Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, or top pitching prospect Jackson Rutledge. Three of those players undoubtedly remain off-limits, though Robles struggled last season and has actually regressed in each of the past two campaigns.
However, he’s still got four more years of control left and isn’t even arbitration-eligible until 2022, so there’s a boatload of value in that to a team looking to cut payroll. The Nationals obviously know that and, as Dougherty notes, the Cubs’ leverage is eroding to the point that “it may not take any top prospects to complete a deal.” What a sad reality that is.
The flip side is that Bryant checks a lot of boxes for the Nats, including his existing relationship with manager Dave Martinez after their time together in Chicago. That’s obviously not a prerequisite, but it could be one of those intangibles that would make Rizzo — Mike, not Anthony — comfortable with a short-term move.
What’s clear from Dougherty’s piece is that Bryant is still viewed as a very talented player with tons of potential remaining once you get outside the myopic bubble of Cubs fandom. Even though there are still plenty of Cubs fans who understand Bryant’s value, far too many “bad people” have written him off as either a flash in the pan or a prima donna, neither of which is close to accurate.
But with the Cubs apparently eyeing at least a retool, if not a full “heavy restart,” they may view the money saved on Bryant’s final year of control as a greater value than his potential production. Who would have imagined that being the case when they manipulated his service time in early 2015 to keep him one day short of the threshold to gain that additional year?
We may find out soon enough how this all shakes out, as the non-tender deadline is coming up on December 2. As unlikely as it is that the Cubs would simply turn Bryant loose as a free agent with nothing in return, that remains a non-zero possibility. If they do in fact tender him a contract, other teams may want to see where his salary lands before swinging a deal. Then again, the Nats (or Braves) might get aggressive if they see Bryant as the answer.
I’ve maintained from the start that the Cubs might be able to thread the needle in a sense by holding on until the deadline if they’re truly intent on trading the former MVP. His salary means they’re not getting much in return, and that’s before considering how wrist and finger injuries significantly hampered his production. Other teams will surely highlight shoulder and knee injuries in the two previous seasons, so letting Bryant prove he’s healthy might make a deadline return at least as good as a winter deal.
Of course, that doesn’t help the Cubs very much in terms of payroll. The coming weeks should tell us a lot about how serious Jed Hoyer was when he said they plan to be competitive in 2021.