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.