Anthony Rendon

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 have a number of options in filling infield need

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

SAN DEIGO — On Day 1 of the winter meetings, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak reiterated his team’s need to add a starting infielder.

“That's been the focus,” Klentak said Monday afternoon. “Today is Day 1, but technically we've been here for almost two full days. It feels like that is what we have mostly been working on since we've been here. We're just trying to explore all different avenues. Single-year and multi-year fits. Trade and free-agent fits. In the way that the pitching market has really come together quickly, this one doesn't seem to be coming together quite as quickly. But not because there aren't options.”

The free-agent pitching market is indeed moving quickly. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on a staggering seven-year, $245 million deal on Monday and Gerrit Cole is expected to blow past that deal in the coming days. The Phillies made some (sort of) news Monday when their signing of Zack Wheeler became official after the right-hander passed his physical exam.

“We felt it was important to add someone to our rotation that could pair with Aaron Nola at the top and give us a chance to win any series against the best pitchers in baseball,” Klentak said. “I think those are as good a twosome as you'll find in the league.”

New manager Joe Girardi concurred.

“We have 1 and 1-A,” he said.

Now, the question is: Who will play second base, third base and shortstop behind Wheeler and Nola?

Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are likely to hold down two of the spots. We say “likely” because there’s always the chance that Kingery could play center field (right now it looks like Adam Haseley will be the guy there) and Segura could be traded if the Phils could find someone to take on the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract. That won’t be easy, even if the Phils eat some salary.

Ideally, the Phillies would land a shortstop like free-agent Didi Gregorius on a one-year or manageable multi-year deal and move Segura from shortstop to second base and play Kingery at third. The Phillies have had serious talks with Gregorius, but have to be ready to pivot if they can’t lock him up. As Klentak said, there are options in the infield. Most of them, however, are not shortstops. A free-agent second baseman like Jonathan Schoop could be a good fallback if the Phils can’t sign Gregorius. He had 23 doubles and 23 homers in 433 at-bats for the Twins last season. Signing Schoop would mean that Segura would have to stay at shortstop or move to third with Kingery playing shortstop.

There are plenty of options at third base, from veteran Todd Frazier to top-of-the-market superstars Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. There are also versatile veterans like Starlin Castro and even Brock Holt who could be used in mix-and-match, platoon scenarios.

“There’s a bunch of different ways we can go,” Klentak said. “We can go a shorter-term variety, we can look at a longer-term solution, we can look at the trade market, we can look at the free-agent market and we can look into piecing it together with multiple players potentially, which not only would help the starting infield, but would improve the bench. That’s where a lot of our focus this week is being turned.”

All right, let’s address those top-of-the-market names: The Phils have had contact with the representatives for Rendon and Donaldson and they have not tapped out of those markets, but signing one of those big-money players remains a longshot. The Phils signed Bryce Harper for $330 million last winter, Wheeler for $118 million this winter and still have to budget for a potential $100 million contract extension for J.T. Realmuto. Rendon is expected to command well over $200 million and Donaldson should get more than $25 million per season when he lands. The Phils are creeping up on the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in total payroll. Managing partner John Middleton would go over the tax for the right opportunity. There’s a lot of never-say-never here, but …

“Ownership has always encouraged us to stay engaged on everything,” Klentak said. “If there's an opportunity to bring something to them we will. I think the most notable example was signing Jake Arrieta two years ago. That was not necessarily on our radar. It came together late and the owners jumped on it. I'm not going to sit here today and declare that we are or are not in on certain players or that we will or will not exceed the tax threshold. Our job is to keep an open mind and continue to pursue all avenues and see what makes sense for us. There is an element of this from a management perspective in making sure we apply the proper balance to roster building and not get too top-heavy. We need to be responsible about it, but we're not going to shy away from pursuing or at least exploring opportunities, whether we bring them to the finish line or not.”

With Wheeler on board, an infielder on the way, the return to good health of some key players and the projected improvement of others, Klentak is confident of this:

“We are definitely building a team that we expect will contend in 2020,” he said.

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At the Yard podcast: How MLB Winter Meetings could play out for Phillies

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At the Yard podcast: How MLB Winter Meetings could play out for Phillies

From MLB's Winter Meetings in San Diego, Jim Salisbury joins Corey Seidman on the At the Yard podcast to preview the Phillies' potentially big week ahead.

• What can Phillies accomplish this week at the Winter Meetings?

• What is their priority after signing Zack Wheeler?

• How serious is the Phils' pursuit of Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson?

• Didi still looks like the guy.

• Phils not finished adding starting pitching.

• What now for Pivetta and Velasquez?

• Luxury tax talk

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