My first inclination upon seeing the latest on Kris Bryant and the Cubs was to reiterate something I’d tweeted at the end of November when similar reports were being floated. My second inclination was that I could just leave well enough alone because it’s already been covered by Aldo Soto of Sports Mockery and Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation. But then I thought about the massive revenue from those sweet, sweet clicks and I went with my third inclination.
The truth of the matter is that it’s as salient a topic as we’ve got whilst chilling in the horse latitudes of an offseason that went from white hot to frozen solid by a lockout. As such, I want to quickly touch on what MLB Insider Robert Murray said during the latest episode of The Baseball Insiders, his podcast with Mark Carman. Their guest was Sun-Time Cubs beat writer Russell Dorsey, who Carman asked about Bryant or Anthony Rizzo returning to Chicago.
“The KB one, if the market comes back to you at let’s say $27, $28 million a pop, at 30-years-old, I don’t think that’s the worst deal out there for [the Cubs] and maybe that helps expedite your rebuild even more so after adding starting pitching,” Dorsey replied.
That’s something I think needs a bit more context, which we’ll get into after checking out Murray’s response.
“That is something I’ve been working on behind the scenes,” the host said. “I was told by somebody who would know Chicago, ‘I would not rule it out.’ And it’s been on my mind ever since. I’m tracking that one. I do think Kris Bryant going back to Chicago is a realistic scenario, and the number you threw out — 27, 28 million bucks — makes a whole lot of sense.”
I’m not entirely sure what to make of him saying this came from “somebody who would know Chicago” because it could mean someone within the organization to just some dude off the street. He’s obviously not talking about a former Wrigleyville resident who heard Jed Hoyer on the phone with Carter Hawkins during a Starbucks run, so the indication is clearly that it’s someone with legit connections.
Murray does have plenty of those and he’s no stranger to breaking news, though that’s actually part of why I was immediately skeptical of this report. As I tweeted Tuesday evening, the Cubs have both actual interest in Bryant and interest in making people believe they have actual interest in Bryant. Convoluted enough for you? It’s never a bad idea to set up the plausibility of saying, “Hey, at least we tried” in the event that the feel-good story doesn’t materialize.
As to making people believe they have interest, it's always good fan service to let it "leak" that you would like to bring back a franchise great. And if they could get him on the type of deal that works out for the team, well, that makes sense.
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) December 8, 2021
All that aside, a reunion can’t be ruled out if for no other reason than Bryant holds no ill will for the Cubs and would absolutely return given the right circumstances. The Cubs also have several holes to fill and could use upgrades in the outfield and the power department in general, so, even though they should probably prioritize left-handed thunder, the versatile Bryant checks several boxes.
As for the reality of the situation, there are a lot of obstacles when it comes to bringing KB back into the fold. Dorsey mentioned a figure of up to $28 million AAV, which is $4-5 million higher than Bryant is projected to command in free agency, but the assumption here is that it would be for a shorter duration of maybe three years or so. A similar strategy worked with Marcus Stroman, who can opt out after two years and potentially earn another big payday.
There continue to be conflicting stories about what Bryant was or wasn’t offered during his time with the Cubs and I’ll stand by what I’ve reported the whole time. But part of the reason the reports differ is that any hypothetical proposal never reached Bryant in the first place, presumably because it lacked specific features his camp needed to see included. The Cubs have traditionally been unwilling to include no-trade clauses, so that could have been a sticking point.
Turning our focus back to the present, Hoyer has made it clear that he prefers to do shorter deals and that he’s willing to push to higher annual values if it makes sense. The 30-year-old Bryant (as of January 4), however, would almost certainly prefer a longer contract with lower AAV and more assurance that it’ll at least get him close to the end of his career. While the Bryce Harper situation isn’t the same, Bryant’s fellow Las Vegan landed in Philly in large part due to a deal that allowed him to stay in one spot for over a decade.
Another reason is that the Cubs weren’t willing to make an offer for him, as it’s been rumored that Harper preferred Chicago or LA over Philadelphia. Will we see something similar happen this year?
If the Cubs are going to push out to something longer than five or six years at a high AAV, they’re probably going whole hog and targeting Carlos Correa. Not only do they need an elite shortstop in a bad way, but having one who is almost three years younger than Bryant would make the additional time and money more palatable to ownership and management.
Of course, there is also the possibility that the Cubs could find a way to add both players if they are really intent on going for it immediately. That would require some creative deals and finding tremendous value in terms of another starter, some bullpen help, and a lefty bat, but it’s not impossible when you look at the team’s minimal long-term commitments. It would also require Bryant agreeing to a deal similar to the one Stroman signed.
I’ll close here by repeating that a reunion can’t be ruled out until Bryant is wearing another team’s uniform. In the end, though, I think this is more a matter of the typical offseason gamesmanship that includes leaked info meant to achieve a purpose that doesn’t necessarily match up with what’s being reported.