Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado.
While it looks increasingly likely that Colorado opens the season with Arenado, a big piece of the Bryant puzzle was finally solved last week when an arbiter ruled in favor of the Cubs, determining that Bryant would not gain an extra year of service time for the clear manipulation the Cubs pulled with him in 2015 when they called him up to the majors one day after the cutoff.
It means that Bryant is under two full years of club control. It’s a huge benefit to the Cubs because two years of a very good player will net you more in a trade than one.
NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported that Bryant is open-minded to signing a long-term extension but hasn’t received an offer close to what he is seeking.
It is unlikely Bryant stays put beyond 2021. The Cubs haven’t exactly been spending money lately, if you haven’t noticed. They’ve guaranteed a grand total of $3.5 million to outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and three relievers this offseason. That’s it. Years of really bad spending (Jason Heyward, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Craig Kimbrel to an extent) led to this point. Aside from having a bloated payroll, the Cubs also need the exciting young talent they’d hope to net in a Bryant trade.
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Bryant is a very good player. He’s not at the level of an Arenado or Anthony Rendon. He just isn’t that kind of hitter. Close to it but not quite. Bryant is a consistent .280-.290 bat with a high on-base percentage and 30-home-run power. The power isn’t what it once was, or what it is still billed to be. Bryant averaged 35 homers per 162 games in his first three seasons and 30 in his last two.
Still a great skill set any team would love to have. But there is no guarantee Bryant is going to be a tippy-top offensive performer over the next two years or next five years. Very good? Sure. But you don’t commit a $225-250 million contract to a player for anything less than the expectation of elite production. And those will undoubtedly be the figures Bryant and agent Scott Boras are eyeballing. From their perspective, Bryant is almost an equal hitter just with more athleticism and versatility. He can play both infield and outfield corners and a passable center field. Whether he still can at say, age 32, is a different story.
Will the Phillies trade for Bryant? Many of their pursuits are made in silence so the perception of inactivity means little here. If forced to make a bet one way or the other though, I’d say it’s not happening. Camp is in two weeks. The Phillies have an entire infield of players they liked a lot at some point over the last 12 months. Of course Bryant would be an upgrade over everyone in that infield, but you can’t acquire Kris Bryant for a package of B-level prospects. A trade would cost a lot. Even two years of Bryant would be worth a top prospect and several more attractive pieces. A plausible negotiation would have the Cubs asking for both Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard plus more, the Phillies countering with Bohm and other goodies and the end result maybe costing Bohm and 2-3 more players you don’t feel comfortable moving.
The Phillies, as any fan knows, have not had an impressive recent track record of graduating consistently productive players to the majors. Aaron Nola, Hector Neris, Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery is not enough in-house development. Not if you want to be a perennial 90-win team with a real chance to win a World Series.
The Phillies need the prospects they’d otherwise trade for Bryant to pan out here. They need them to become low-cost contributors that supplement the high-paid core of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Nola and Zack Wheeler. Almost every champion you can find had good, exciting players in key roles. Juan Soto and Trea Turner combined to make just over $4 million for the 2019 Nationals. There’s no Scherzer-Strasburg-Corbin without several inexpensive starting players, and there’s no championship if those inexpensive starters don’t vastly outperform their price tag.
The Phillies don’t have a Soto. Few teams do. They don’t even have a Turner, unless you think Kingery has that sort of ceiling and I haven’t yet seen enough to believe it.
But still, you can’t just go out and pay an immense cost in dollars or young talent — or both — for every improvement.
I did think the Phillies should have aggressively pursued Rendon. He’s better than Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and maybe all but three position players in baseball.
I do think they should stay in touch with the Rockies about Arenado, who is elite offensively and defensively. It would be contingent on them working out some sort of renegotiation of his opt-out, explained in more detail here.
Bryant? I just don’t see how the wisest mid- or long-term play for the Phillies is to acquire a very good but not great player who costs — in prospects and contract — what a truly great player would cost.
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