Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

The first domino of this offseason’s third base market has fallen.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, free agent Anthony Rendon is set to sign a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Texas Rangers were also linked to Rendon in recent days, but they’ll now have to shift their focus elsewhere. The other superstar free agent third baseman — Josh Donaldson — is reportedly drawing interest from the Rangers and Nationals, Rendon's former team.

The Braves, Donaldson's former team, are also in the market for a third baseman. This leads us to the Cubs and Kris Bryant. With Rendon off the board and Donaldson soon to follow, a potential trade market for the Cubs third baseman is growing clearer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also were linked to Rendon, though they don’t necessarily need a third baseman with Justin Turner manning the hot corner. Their pursuit of Rendon points to how they’re willing to shift Turner off third base, however. Add them to the list of teams seeking third base help.

Add that all up, and you have four teams in the market for Donaldson. The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to trade Bryant, but they’ll soon find themselves with some leverage. For the three teams that don’t land Donaldson, the most logical move will be to inquire with the Cubs about trading for Bryant. The Nationals have already inquired about Bryant, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi.

Bryant’s unresolved service time case will be an issue in any potential negotiations. The difference between two years of control (if he loses) and one (if he wins) is big when it comes to his value. Even though they’ll have leverage over interested teams, the Cubs will yield stronger trade proposals for Bryant if he loses his case.

But, again, a trade is no certainty. What is certain is teams will be inquiring about Bryant in the not-so-distant future, once Donaldson chooses his free agent destination.

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Analyzing Cubs-Nationals Kris Bryant trade packages

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USA TODAY

Analyzing Cubs-Nationals Kris Bryant trade packages

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. 

Nationals make inquiry to Cubs about Kris Bryant trade, report says

Nationals make inquiry to Cubs about Kris Bryant trade, report says

In the event they lose All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon in free agency, the Nationals could turn to Kris Bryant as a replacement.

Tuesday, MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported the Nationals have "made an initial inquiry" to the Cubs about trading for Bryant.

Morosi added that Bryant isn't expected to be traded soon, as his market hinges on a) his unresolved service time grievance case and b) where Rendon and fellow free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson sign.

Monday, WSCR's Bruce Levine reported the Phillies and Cubs have discussed a Bryant trade. But similarly, there's nothing to the talks currently due to the two aforementioned factors.

There's also the chance the Cubs hang on to the 2016 National League MVP. They won't trade Bryant just for the sake of doing so, especially if they deem any trade offers as insufficient. But if they do decide to move him, it appears the Cubs will have several potential trade partners, at the least. 

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