Amid fairly consistent reports on the Cubs’ limited payroll capacity this offseason, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that the team is taking an open-minded approach to the trade market. Per the report, the team is willing to listen to offers on virtually anyone on the roster — even star third baseman Kris Bryant.
Needless to say, the fact that the Cubs evidently won’t hang up on rival organizations that inquire on Bryant is far from a suggestion that he is likely to be traded. It is jarring to see his name included in this ESPN headline — “Cubs open to trading 3B Kris Bryant” — but that doesn’t quite seem a fair encapsulation of Olney’s report. And it would remain absolutely stunning to see any deal actually come together this winter.
Indeed, as Olney points out, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein recently acknowledged publicly that neither Bryant nor star first baseman Anthony Rizzo are totally off limits, at least as a theoretical matter. That has always been the club’s stance. Notably, too, Epstein added an important proviso: “Given what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said, “it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them.”
Epstein’s statement still accurately reflects the Cubs’ thinking, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times (via Twitter). Per Wittenmyer, the Cubs are not looking for deals on Bryant and are merely operating under their standard protocol. As one might expect, it “would take a shocking haul/scenario” to “consider moving” Bryant, per Wittenmyer.
Taken as a whole, then, Olney’s report has clear limits. He does say that “it’s possible that the Cubs will trade” Bryant, and that the Cubs are telling rivals they “are willing to discuss trade proposals for almost all of the players on their roster, including Bryant.” That’s not an insignificant piece of information, to be sure, but it hardly seems to support the notion — which seems to be spreading in some corners of social media — that the Cubs have a whole new direction in mind.
On its face, in fact, Olney’s report seems to say as much or more about other Cubs players. The focus on Bryant’s status, in particular, could stem from recent reports about his decision to pass on what would’ve reportedly been a massive extension, David Kaplan of ESPN Radio reported that Bryant turned down an offer worth more than $200MM, though Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic suggests that the most recent time at which such an offer might have materialized is last offseason. That’d mark the second consecutive season in which extension talks with Bryant and agent Scott Boras failed to bear fruit; SI’s Tom Verducci reported in April 2017 that the Cubs and Bryant “got nowhere” in negotiations in the 2016-17 offseason.
The decision to turn down that kind of money is interesting in its own right, of course, but Bryant already banked a record $10.85MM as a first-time arbitration player this offseason. He’s also projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn another $12.4MM this offseason and still has another two trips through the arb process remaining beyond that. Paired with a whopping $6.7MM signing bonus out of the draft and numerous endorsement deals, Bryant undoubtedly already has the financial stability to bet on himself. His current trajectory has him on pace to reach free agency at the age of 29, in advance of his age-30 season, so he’d certainly be young enough to command a massive deal in free agency after going year to year through the arbitration process and banking a sum in excess of $50MM along the way.
While much of the focus of the report is understandably on Bryant, that’s perhaps not seeing the forest for the trees. Bryant, a former NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP, carries perhaps the highest profile of any Cubs player, but the notion that the Cubs could deal from the existing roster — juxtaposed with recent reports on the team’s potential payroll constraints — could at the very least hint at the possibility of unexpected trades involving other notable players. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein described the Cubs’ offense as “broken” after the team’s Wild Card exit and has spoken about the need to repair that element of the Cubs.
However, if the Cubs are indeed facing payroll limitations and thus unable to play at the very top of the free-agent market for bats, then there’d be little alternative to shuffling the deck a bit by dealing some established players on the trade market. The aim, presumably, would not be to embark on any real rebuilding effort but to create some payroll flexibility while giving a still-competitive lineup something of a face lift. All things considered, it’s tough to see how a Bryant trade would really aid the Cubs’ cause.