The Nationals are among the teams with interest in Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). There will certainly be plenty of other suitors for the former NL MVP, who might wind up being the top player traded over the next two weeks.
Indeed, the Nats aren’t the only team in the NL East reportedly looking into a Bryant acquisition. The division-leading Mets were linked to the four-time All-Star last night. On the surface, New York looks to be a more obvious deadline buyer than Washington, who enters tonight’s game with a 42-47 record. In fact, Bryant’s current club is actually a game and a half above the Nats in the Wild Card race.
That said, the Nationals haven’t been shy about trying to make a playoff push when the opportunity presents itself under general manager Mike Rizzo. They’re six games back of the Mets (albeit with the Phillies and Braves also ahead of them) in a division where no teams have separated themselves from the pack. Washington has a difficult three-game series against the Padres this weekend, but that’s followed by dates with the Marlins and Orioles next week, which could give them an opportunity to make up some ground in the standings.
If the Nationals do look to add to the big league roster in the coming weeks, third base is an obvious area to upgrade. Washington has gotten below-average production (.280/.333/.369) at the hot corner over the course of the year, where nearly all of the playing time has gone to Starlin Castro. Castro was placed on administrative leave this afternoon as Major League Baseball investigates domestic violence allegations made against him. Jordy Mercer started at third base tonight in Washington’s first game out of the All-Star Break.
Bryant, of course, would be an upgrade over most teams’ third base situations. The 29-year-old has bounced back from a poor 2020 campaign to hit at an excellent .271/.353/.502 level with sixteen home runs over 329 plate appearances. He’s tailed off after a scorching start to the year, but Bryant’s overall body of work is one of the better ones in the sport.
Of the 231 hitters to accrue 200+ plate appearances in 2021, Bryant is tied for 40th with a 132 wRC+. Relative to last season, he’s drawing more walks, striking out less often and making a higher rate of hard contact. Bryant hasn’t regained the MVP-caliber form he showed early in his career, but his All-Star selection in 2021 was certainly deserved.
The general expectation is that Bryant will wind up on the move between now and the July 30 trade deadline. Cubs president Jed Hoyer suggested last week the team would listen to offers for players on their big league roster on the heels of an 11-game losing streak. They traded outfielder Joc Pederson to the Braves — a team with which the Cubs are ostensibly in competition for a Wild Card berth — for first base prospect Bryce Ball last night. And while Chicago’s reportedly planning to engage in extension talks with first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Javier Báez before the trade deadline, there’s no indication that’s the case with Bryant.
One potential obstacle to a Bryant trade is salary. He signed a $19.5MM deal to avoid arbitration over the winter, approximately $8.3MM of which remains to be paid. The Nationals typically run higher than average payrolls, and their $183MM estimated figure (per Cot’s Baseball Contracts) for this season is about $14MM shy of the franchise’s 2019 outlay. That could suggest there’s room on the books for Bryant, although it remains to be seen if ownership’s keen on making such an investment in a team that entered play tonight with a meager 2.8% chance of making the playoffs, in FanGraphs’ estimation.
The other important potential roadblock to a deal that sends Bryant to the nation’s capital is the Nationals’ thin farm system. Certainly, every team in the league could put together a prospect package sufficient to land Bryant, who’ll be a free agent at season’s end. But Heyman hears that the Nats don’t want to trade their top two prospects, right-handed pitchers Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge.
If that’s the case, it could be difficult for the Nationals to beat the market for Bryant. Infielder Yasel Antuna is the only other player in the system who garners a 45 FV ranking or better from Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein of FanGraphs, and he’s hitting .191/.269/.347 in High-A this year. First-round pick Brady House will certainly vault near the top of the organizational rankings once he signs a professional contract, but 2021 draftees can’t be traded until next offseason. Perhaps the Cubs would have interest in former top prospect Carter Kieboom, but his stock has dimmed amidst some struggles at the big league level and he’s currently on the minor league injured list with a knee issue.
It stands to reason more teams will join the Nationals and Mets as having reported interest in Bryant in the coming weeks. The Cubs look primed to be one of the deadline’s most active sellers, and Bryant’s production and laundry list of accolades will make him perhaps the highest-profile player on the trade market.