(RADIO.COM Sports) The Cubs find themselves at a strange juncture with third baseman Kris Bryant.
As the organization has turned over its the leadership of its baseball operations department from Theo Epstein to Jed Hoyer, the former National League MVP Bryant can become a free agent after the 2021 season, and it feels like the organization is trending toward a retooling or overhaul of some sort. Normally, the willingness to trade Bryant would be met with open arms, but when you combine his impending trip to free agency and the fact that he slashed just .206/.293/.351 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, his stock has taken a hit.
Bryant will turn 29 in January. So theoretically, he should be at his peak now, but that hasn't really been the case. Between 2015 and 2017, Bryant graded out as the third-most valuable offensive player in baseball, slashing .288/.388/.527. In parts of three seasons since, Bryant has graded out as the 51st-most valuable offensive player in the league, slashing .269/.368/.478.
There's still value in the type of player that Bryant has been over the last three seasons, but when you consider he has minus-14 defensive runs saved at third base in his career, the intrigue in trading for him isn't nearly what it would be if he had become available a few winters ago.
The Cubs are willing to trade "almost any veteran" on their roster, Buster Olney of ESPN has reported. This doesn't mean that Bryant necessarily will be dealt, but if the team plans to retool in the coming years, there's a good chance that Bryant won't be a part of that. If that's the case, trading him now probably makes more sense than just receiving draft compensation in free agency next winter, assuming Bryant would even bounce back to the point that the Cubs would feel comfortable extending a qualifying offer.
Here are four teams that could make sense as landing spots for Bryant and a look at some of the pieces they could offer in return.
The Nationals were connected to Bryant last offseason, and they're once again "considering" the possibility of trading for him, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports and MLB Network recently reported. There's reason to believe that the two sides could be more willing to meet in the middle on trade discussions this winter. A year after winning the World Series in 2019, the Nationals finished in a tie for last place in the NL East, badly missing Anthony Rendon's presence at the hot corner. Will the Nationals be willing to agree to a trade package for Bryant that RADIO.COM MLB insider Jon Heyman reported they shied away from last year? Time will tell, as Bryant is coming off of a down year and is a year closer to free agency, so his value simply isn't as high as the Cubs perceived it to be last offseason. If the Nationals are willing to put right-hander Jackson Rutledge or infielder Luis Garcia at the forefront of a package this offseason, that may be as good as it gets for the Cubs.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox and Cubs have had past discussions surrounding Bryant, according to 670 reporter Bruce Levine, but the talks didn't gain much traction. Still, the recent interest in Bryant is noteworthy for the purposes of this discussion and makes you wonder whether the two sides will revisit talks this offseason. The interesting note regarding Bryant in Boston is that his arrival would likely mean an end to outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.'s time with the team. With Rafael Devers entrenched at third base, the Red Sox would probably use Bryant primarily in left field, which would mean Andrew Benintendi takes over in center field. From my perspective, the Red Sox would be wiser to invest in a free agent like George Springer than to part with any prospect capital, but the past connection makes them a team worth monitoring.
By all accounts, Braves general manager Alex Anthopolous prefers to sign veterans to one-year deals, hoping for their bounce-back seasons, as opposed to making major long-term investments. The Braves have already signed pitchers Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton to one-year pacts this offseason and did so with third baseman Josh Donaldson, left-hander Cole Hamels and outfielder Marcell Ozuna the past two offseasons. In an offseason that figures to be flush with non-tenders and veterans having to accept one-year deals, the Braves may simply lurk in free agency long enough to find impact players without making any long-term commitments. It's a strategy that's largely worked well for them the past two years. The interesting part about Bryant is that trading for him would only be a one-year commitment, and if he bounces back in a lineup that also includes stars in outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., first baseman Freddie Freeman and second baseman Ozzie Albies, it could be enough to put the Braves over the top. A trade for Bryant would likely mean that Ozuna, who became a fan favorite in 2020, doesn't return. The Braves wouldn't move outfielder Christian Pache or outfielder Drew Waters -- their two top-ranked prospects, per MLB.com -- in a deal like this, but right-hander Bryse Wilson, left-hander Kyle Muller and catcher William Contreras could be interesting pieces for the Cubs to consider.
At the outset of last offseason, there was a belief from many that the Rangers could be at the forefront of the markets for Rendon and Donaldson, but ultimately general manager Jon Daniels was unable to land either. Isiah Kiner-Falefa actually ended up winning a Gold Glove Award for the Rangers in 2020, so they may not be inclined to move him off third base, even if he's capable of playing multiple positions. However, buying relatively low on Bryant -- whether the plan would be for him to play in left field, at third base or a combination of the two -- could help the Rangers attempt to keep pace with the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros in the American League West. With top prospect Josh Jung, a third baseman, looming, it may actually be best for the Rangers if Bryant played left field. Whether they'd be willing to part with some combination of outfielder Leody Taveras, right-hander Cole Winn, shortstop Maximo Acosta and right-hander Hans Crouse is unknown. We also don't know if the Rangers would be able to put together the top package for Bryant, but his fit with the team is interesting.