Phillies

A Kris Bryant trade would be so complicated but so interesting for Phillies

A Kris Bryant trade would be so complicated but so interesting for Phillies

The Cubs and Kris Bryant are trending toward a divorce, which would add another layer to a surprisingly fast-paced MLB offseason and another viable option for the Phillies to improve their lineup.

Bryant is currently scheduled to become a free agent after the 2021 season. From the outside, there may appear to be no reason for the Cubs to explore a trade yet with two years of team control remaining.

But Bryant could very well reach free agency a year earlier, which would change the entire equation. Bryant, represented by Scott Boras, filed a grievance against the Cubs for manipulating his service time in 2015 to delay his free agency by a year. The hearing was in October. If you're a big baseball fan, you probably remember the incident. Bryant was clearly ready to rip in the majors out of spring training in 2015 but did not play his first game until April 17 with the Cubs, who wanted the cutoff date to pass. It was clear manipulation. It's unclear how MLB will rule. But you can't trade for the guy now before you know whether he comes with one year of team control or two.

What if he wins his grievance?

If Bryant wins the grievance and thus enters his walk year in 2020, the Cubs' incentive to trade him increases. They will want value for him before he likely leaves a contentious situation.

It would also decrease the Cubs' return for Bryant — an extremely valuable player with one year of club control is just worth less than one with two years remaining.

Most realistic suitors

Who are the teams most interested in a stud third baseman with a trade package that would appeal to the Cubs? 

Phillies, Dodgers, Braves make sense off the bat. Why wouldn't the Angels make a play if they strike out on Gerrit Cole? The Nationals have reportedly discussed Bryant with the Cubs. Many other teams will check in but not every one will have the werewithal to also pay him between $100 million and $200 million.

Not just a 3B

Bryant's positional versatility and athleticism increase his value, his next contract, and the size of his trade market. Teams could trade for him as a third baseman, right fielder, left fielder or first baseman. If the Phillies were to somehow acquire Bryant without giving up Alec Bohm (unlikely), it would not create the same positional blockage as an Anthony Rendon signing.

Interested teams are asking themselves right now how many years and how many dollars it's going to take to re-sign Bryant. Is he willing to sign an extension a year early? Would he prefer to reach the open market?

Less power than you'd expect

As of now, Bryant would not be in line for as rich a contract as the one signed by Nolan Arenado last February (eight years, $260 million) or the one Rendon signs this offseason. Bryant is a very, very, very good player. He's a former MVP. He's a career .284/.385/.516 hitter with full-season averages of 32 homers and 92 RBI. 

Really, though, Bryant hasn't lived up to the reputation of power hitter since that 39-homer MVP season in 2016. He hit 31 homers this past season with the juiced ball. That's a lot of homers in every season other than 2019, when it ranked 45th. The prior season, Bryant went deep 13 times in 457 plate appearances.

Still really, really good

Even when he's not hitting dingers, Bryant is still a productive hitter who can bat at the top or in the middle of the order. With the Cubs in recent years, he hit second. It resulted in low RBI totals but also three seasons with 100-plus runs scored. Bryant has always been a selective hitter and it served him in that two-hole. He has a .390 OBP the last three years.

Bryant can run, though he's not a stolen base threat. His defense at third base won't hurt you, at least not yet. Long term, he's probably better served in left field or at first base.

The other factor is age. Bryant turns 28 on Jan. 4. He is a year and a half younger than Rendon. He's eight months older than fellow Las Vegas native Bryce Harper, thus of course fitting into the Phillies' window.

Any Bryant trade will take time and there's almost no chance it happens this week. His service time issue first has to be resolved to better determine his trade value. Once that hurdle is cleared, an intriguing alternative to Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Didi Gregorius will be realistically attainable.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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