ESPN scribe Jeff Passan floated a very interesting tidbit in his latest column Wednesday: There’s a belief among rival executives that the Red Sox, Indians and Cubs will at least be willing to listen to trade offers for their franchise players during the upcoming winter. That means any of Boston’s Mookie Betts, Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor or Chicago’s Kris Bryant could change hands once the offseason rolls around. It’s far from a guarantee anyone from the group will wind up on the move, but the idea that they might should make hot stove season all the more interesting.
The only member of the trio with fewer than two years of team control remaining is Betts, who will enter his final season of arbitration eligibility over the winter. The 26-year-old right fielder is just a season removed from earning AL MVP honors, which helped him land a historic $20MM payday to avoid arbitration last winter. The 2019 version of Betts hasn’t been as stellar as the MVP-winning player, but that’s not a knock on his performance this season so much as a compliment to what he did a year ago, when he amassed an eyebrow-raising 10.4 fWAR. Betts is up to 4.8 in that category this year, having slashed a strong .282/.384/.494 with 21 home runs and 13 stolen bases across 622 plate appearances.
Just a year from winning their latest World Series title, why would the Red Sox possibly move Betts? They’re unlikely to make the playoffs this year, though a trip back to the postseason in 2020 hardly looks out of the question. However, Betts has indicated on multiple occasions that he’d like to test free agency after next season, when he could reel in one of the all-time richest contracts in the sport. For the Red Sox, trading Betts a year before a potential journey to the open market would help the club replenish its farm system to some degree. The Red Sox only came in 22nd place in Baseball America’s most recent talent rankings.
The Indians, on the other hand, boast the game’s 10th-best system, though they’re incapable of spending to the extent the Red Sox can. That means Lindor is quite likely to end up elsewhere in the coming years. Mr. Smile will be a free agent after 2021, but it would behoove the Indians to get something for him prior to then. In the meantime, the 25-year-old Lindor is sure to collect a notable raise over his current $10.55MM salary when he reaches arbitration for the penultimate time during the offseason. Lindor perhaps hasn’t been quite as great as he was in 2018, a career-high 7.6-fWAR campaign, but his 4.3 mark and .300/.353/.532 line with 24 homers and 19 steals through 522 PA are mighty impressive nonetheless. Needless to say, teams will line up for the elite shortstop if small-market Cleveland goes with the agonizing decision to make him available in the coming months.
And then there’s Bryant, yet another former MVP. The Boras client joins Lindor as another all-world performer who’s slated for his second-last trip through arbitration in a few months. Bryant, 27, is well on his way to another raise (he’s currently on a $12.9MM salary), having batted .282/.379/.521 and smashed 29 dingers over 552 trips to the plate. Whether the Cubs would truly consider parting with Bryant is up in the air, but they are amid their second somewhat disappointing season (albeit one that looks as if it will culminate in yet another playoff berth), and waving goodbye to the third baseman/outfielder would go a long way toward aiding them in bolstering their system. It’s definitely a below-average group, according to BA, which places it 29th in baseball.
We’re still a couple months from the offseason rearing its head, but if anyone from this trio hits the block, it should make for an incredibly interesting winter of rumors. Do you expect any of them to actually change teams after the season?
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