Los Angeles Angels

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

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USA TODAY

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

Could we see a Willson Contreras-Joe Maddon reunion in Los Angeles?

According to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, the Angels are “heavily engaged in the catcher market,” and are having “active conversations with two teams” regarding a trade for a catcher.

Torres didn’t specifically mention Contreras, but he’s one of several Cubs who have been linked to trade rumors this offseason. The Cubs aren’t looking to enter another all-out rebuild, but they’re keeping the future of the organization in mind following a disappointing 84-win season.

The Cubs farm system has grown barren of impact talent. They’ve struggled to develop big-league starting pitching under team president Theo Epstein. Their payroll is projected to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second straight season, meaning they’d encounter a 30 percent luxury tax on their overages and see their draft position drop 10 spots, should they exceed the $208 million threshold by $40 million or more.

Trading Contreras — who’s projected to make $4.5 million via arbitration next season — won’t solve the financial problem. However, trading him could net the Cubs the type of blue-chip prospects they desperately need to replenish their farm system.

Contreras is also under team control through 2022, so there’s not a huge rush to deal the two-time All-Star. But if the Cubs sense he’s unlikely to sign a contract extension now or in the future, they must do their due diligence on him and see what they could acquire in a potential trade. The same is true for Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

The Angels have one top 100 prospect, (outfielder Jo Adell — No. 5 overall), according to MLB Pipeline, so what Los Angeles could offer the Cubs is questionable. Epstein and Co. won’t trade their backstop for the sake of doing so, especially if they deem any offers to be unsatisfactory.  

Contreras hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 home runs and 64 RBIs last season. He’d be a major addition for the Angels, whose catchers posted a combined .221/.293/.344 slash line with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs. The 27-year-old also has a special bond with former Cubs/current Angels manager Joe Maddon.

Contreras posted a heartfelt good-bye to Maddon on Instagram after the Cubs announced they weren’t retaining the manager for 2020. Contreras later commissioned a painting of he and Maddon as a gift for his former skipper.

Monday, Maddon said it’s “weird” to hear Bryant and Contreras mentioned in trade rumors, adding that he likes both players. 

The Angels aren't definitively linked to Contreras and Epstein recently advised to take rumors with a "mouthful of salt." But considering the Angels are reportedly seeking a catching upgrade, it won't be a surprise to see that change soon.

Joe Maddon on end of Cubs tenure: 'I didn't want to be back either'

Joe Maddon on end of Cubs tenure: 'I didn't want to be back either'

Joe Maddon's future with the Cubs hung in the balance throughout 2019. Despite postseason appearances in four-straight seasons (2015-18), he entered the season with lame duck status after Cubs president Theo Epstein shut down extension talks last fall.

If that wasn't telling enough, the Cubs underperformed throughout 2019, slipping out of a postseason spot in late September. On the last day of the regular season, Cubs president Theo Epstein made it official: the organization was not retaining Maddon for 2020.

The move didn't blindside Maddon, however. In a recent interview, he noted that it was obvious he wouldn't be retained, but also that he didn't want to return, anyhow.

"When it got down to the last couple days it was really obvious to both sides," Maddon said to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. "I didn’t want to be back either. It was more of a bilateral than a unilateral decision.’’

Well, damn. You can't blame Maddon for seeking a new challenge for 2020 and beyond. After all, he had a ton of success with the Cubs but was asked to adjust his managerial style in 2019. While change is good, there are plenty of teams (see: Los Angeles Angels) that would take him as is. 

Still, Maddon's split from the Cubs was amicable, and Epstein said the two agreed the change was a win-win. He wasn't unemployed long, landing a three-year deal with a fourth-year option to manage the Angels, where he previously spent 31 years of his baseball career. The Cubs got their man, too, naming David Ross as Maddon's successor after a year's worth of speculation.

Maddon wants Ross to do well, and if his pipe dream comes true, he'll get to face Ross and the Cubs in the World Series in the not-so-distant future.

"I do want to play them in a World Series, because it would mean both sides are successful," Maddon said to Topkin. "And I want us to win the last game, which I think is only appropriate. … I love David, I think he’s going to do a great job actually, and I love a lot of the players there. I’ve got more thought- provoking, tear-provoking outreach from some (Cubs players) at the end of this season than I’ve ever gotten before.’’

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