Tuesday, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the Nationals have inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential trade for third baseman Kris Bryant.
According to Morosi, Bryant isn’t expected to be traded soon, as the market hinges on his unresolved service time grievance and the third base free agent market. It’s also very plausible the Cubs don’t move Bryant. They aren't looking to enter an all-out rebuild and don’t get better by trading him.
Moving Bryant would be to ensure the Cubs get something back for him rather than allowing him to walk in free agency for nothing. However, they may deem any offers as unsatisfactory.
With Morosi’s report in mind, our friends over at NBC Sports Washington put together three potential packages for a Cubs-Nationals Bryant trade. Using those same packages, here’s what they'd look like from a Cubs perspective.
Scenario No. 1
Nationals acquire: 3B Kris Bryant
Cubs acquire: INF Carter Kieboom, RHP Mason Denaburg and LHP Tim Cate
Any Nationals trade proposals must start with Kieboom. The 22-year-old infielder is Washington’s No. 1 prospect and No. 20 overall in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
Kieboom started last season in Triple-A but made his big-league debut in late April after Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon went down with injuries. He struggled at the plate, hitting .128/.209/.282 in 11 games before getting sent back to Triple-A for the rest of 2019.
That sample size is incredibly small and Kieboom had a stellar minor league season. He posted a .303/.409/.493 line with 16 homers and 79 RBIs in 109 games while splitting his time defensively between third base (10 games), second (41) and shortstop (62).
Kieboom would be a fantastic addition because he'd likely join the Cubs big-league roster right away. He could replace Bryant as the starting third baseman, but his defensive versatility presents other possibilities. Along with Nico Hoerner, Kieboom could backup shortstop Javier Báez.
Hoerner may start next season as the Cubs starting second baseman but he can also play some center field. If the latter is the case, Kieboom could play second while someone like David Bote plays third.
Denaburg is Washington’s No. 5 prospect (third-ranked pitching prospect) and Cate is No. 6 (fourth-ranked pitching prospect). Pipeline projects Denaburg to be a No. 3 starter — if everything clicks — and Cate to be a back-of-the-rotation arm.
The duo may not have the ceilings to be top-of-the-rotation guys, but the Cubs have struggled to develop starting pitching under Theo Epstein. Denaburg and Cate are a couple years away from the big leagues, but they’d help replenish the Cubs farm system and could be rotation mainstays going forward.
Scenario No. 2
Nationals acquire: 3B Kris Bryant
Cubs acquire: INF Carter Kieboom, RHP Joe Ross and RHP Wil Crowe
The Cubs would get a little bit of everything in this hypothetical package. In Kieboom, they’d acquire a potential franchise cornerstone. In Ross, they’d acquire a pitcher to fill their rotation vacancy opened by Cole Hamels, who departed in free agency. And in Crowe, they’d acquire a pitching prospect, something they covet.
Each player comes with questions, however. The Cubs wouldn’t expect Kieboom to step into their lineup and instantly match Bryant’s production. Kieboom has barely scratched the big-league surface. And as we’ve seen with the Cubs — i.e. Bryant, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. — player development isn’t linear. The Cubs wouldn’t expect Kieboom to become an offensive force from Day 1.
Ross has had an up-and-down career to date. From 2015-16, he made 35 appearance (32 starts), sporting a 3.52 ERA in 181 2/3 innings. He struck out 162 batters compared to 50 walks over that span, posting a respectable 1.222 WHIP.
Ross started all 16 games he appeared in from 2017-18 but only started nine of 27 in 2019. Across those three seasons, he holds a 5.21 ERA and 1.536 WHIP in 153 2/3 innings. He also underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2017 and is out of options entering 2020.
Nonetheless, Ross is only 26 years old and could afford a fresh start. He showed from 2015-16 he’s capable of being a serviceable MLB starter, and the Cubs could do a lot worse than him as a fifth rotation guy. If they’re lucky, perhaps the 2011 first-round pick turns into something greater.
Crowe, 25, is the Nationals No. 4 prospect and second-ranked pitching prospect (per Pipeline). He underwent Tommy John in 2015 but bounced back to become Washington’s second round pick in 2017. Last season, he posted a 4.70 ERA in 26 starts, though that figure jumped from 3.87 in Double-A (16 starts) to 6.17 in Triple-A (10).
Crowe is projected to be a No. 4 or 5 starter and is knocking on the big-league door. That could be enticing for the Cubs, as José Quintana is a free agent after 2020 and Jon Lester could reach the open market, too, if his option doesn’t vest.
Scenario No. 3
Nationals acquire: 3B Kris Bryant and LF Kyle Schwarber
Cubs acquire: OF Adam Eaton, RHP Joe Ross and RHP Jackson Rutledge
From the Cubs' perspective, this scenario makes the least sense of the three. Trading Bryant and Schwarber would open up payroll space for the Cubs to address other holes on the roster. Bryant is projected to make $18.5 million next season, while Schwarber is projected to make $8 million.
The idea here is the Cubs would shed salary but still remain competitive. Eaton — who slashed .279/.365/.428 last season — would present the Cubs with an everyday leadoff man, something they’re seeking this offseason. Ross would fill their rotation vacancy, while Rutledge — Washington’s top pitching prospect and first-round pick last season — has the potential to be an ace down the road.
That’s a solid package, but not in exchange for both Bryant and Schwarber. Trading Bryant alone would put a dent in the Cubs’ lineup. Sure, Eaton could replace Schwarber in left field, but the latter is coming off a stellar second half last season. The Cubs have invested a ton in Schwarber, remaining patient during his trials and tribulations since 2017. Now is not the time to trade him.
Bryant and Schwarber are both under contract through 2021. Eaton will make $9.5 million next season and has a club option for 2021; Ross is projected to make $1.4 million next season is arbitration eligible through 2021.
Add that up, and the Cubs would be trading two cogs in their lineup for:
-A year, maybe two, of a 31-year-old year outfielder
-A year or two of a back-end starter/reliever
-A pitching prospect with high-upside
The idea of shedding payroll makes sense, but this package specifically wouldn’t work for the Cubs.
Only time will tell if the Cubs trade Bryant and what they'd get back for him. As they consider any potential proposals, they'll have to ensure what they're being offered will help the organization now and going forward.