nolan arenado

Revisiting Kris Bryant trade situation for Phillies with Mookie Betts off the board

Revisiting Kris Bryant trade situation for Phillies with Mookie Betts off the board

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. 

NBC Sports Boston: Making sense of the Mookie Betts trade

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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Nolan Arenado's trade situation a reminder of the benefits of Bryce Harper's contract

Nolan Arenado's trade situation a reminder of the benefits of Bryce Harper's contract

The situation the Rockies find themselves in with Nolan Arenado underscores again how beneficial it was for the Phillies that Bryce Harper didn't care about an opt-out.

Rewind to a year ago. It would have seemed ludicrous, unfathomable even that a 26-year-old star like Harper, represented by Scott Boras, would sign a contract that didn't include an opt-out.

Manny Machado has one. Arenado has one. Stephen Strasburg, J.D. Martinez, Aroldis Chapman — all had opt-outs which affected this offseason.

It's commonplace nowadays. It gives the player all the leverage. If he outperforms the early part of his deal, he can opt-out and make more. If he underperforms, he can play out the original deal and get that financial security.

Harper didn't want one. He wanted to stay in one place for 13 years. The $330 million helps.

The Rockies are in a much more precarious position with their star. Arenado just signed an eight-year, $260 million extension last February. And now, it seems like a good bet that he'll be with another team by July 31.

Arenado expressed his dissatisfaction to this week.

“There’s a lot of disrespect from people there that I don’t want to be a part of,” Arenado told Thomas Harding. “You can quote that.

"I'm not mad at the trade rumors. There's more to it."

The "more" seems to be the Rockies' inability to build more of a winning team around Arenado. A year ago at this time, Colorado was feeling great about young starting pitchers Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. In 2018, those two led the best starting staff the Rockies have ever had. Both took huge steps back in 2019 and that has affected the Rockies' window.

Why did they even extend Arenado in the first place if they couldn't realistically contend, you may ask. Because it benefits them. They bought themselves more time to figure out an Arenado trade. This is not how anyone saw the extension playing out a year ago, but here we are.

Arenado's opt-out looms large. He can opt-out after the 2021 season, so a team trading for him will either need to trade a ton while simultaneously renegotiating the opt-out, or trade less for less control of Arenado. It's complicated but here's an explanation

The Phillies right now face similar concerns in building a contender. They've spent more than $700 million the last three offseasons yet many view them as the fourth-best team in their own division going into 2020. 

You don't sign Harper to that gargantuan long-term contract just to try to win 85 games a year. You do it to win a division; you do it to play deep into October. In that regard, another win-now move like an Arenado trade makes a lot of sense, even though it would almost certainly cost the Phils all of Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm, Scott Kingery and maybe another player. 

The flipside is that the Phillies will not be able to sustain success without graduating their top prospects and getting key contributions from 23-year-olds making the league minimum.

In any event, the one thing they don't have to worry about is Harper feeling so dissatisfied in a year or two that he follows the track Arenado is headed down.

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NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

A lot happened across baseball last week, so much in fact that a $92 million contract was kind of overlooked.

Josh Donaldson signed early in the week with the Minnesota Twins. Four years, $92 million for the 34-year-old third baseman who returned to an All-Star-level in 2019 with the Braves. Donaldson went to Atlanta last offseason on a one-year, $23 million deal and proved his health, hitting .259 with a .900 OPS, 37 homers, 94 RBI and 100 walks. He's always been a plus defender and last season was no exception.

This is a big loss for the Braves, and you have to say their offseason looks worse in light of losing Donaldson. They were active early, signing Cole Hamels, lefty reliever Will Smith, righty reliever Chris Martin and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

But the loss of Donaldson negates most, if not all of that. 

The Braves are still probably a playoff team — 88 or so wins feels right for this team. 

Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are still MVP-caliber players. Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and Max Fried are good, young players. At third base, the Braves can use 23-year old Austin Riley or 26-year-old Johan Camargo. 

Riley's first 30 games as a rookie last season were so impressive — he hit .298, slugged .628, went deep 11 times and drove in 32 runs. It was a nightmarish, swing-and-miss-filled season for him after that. 

Camargo, you'll recall, was productive in 2018. It was his first full season and he hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers and 76 RBI. Most teams would take that at third base. The Donaldson signing by Atlanta last offseason was a surprise because of what the Braves had at the hot corner. There are worse third base situations than Riley/Camargo.

Still, Donaldson is such a difference-maker. Another difference-maker who has left the division. The exits of Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are huge plusses for the Phillies and Mets. It's tough to conceptualize it, but not having to face Donaldson and Rendon is almost as beneficial as a one more solid free-agent signing for the Phillies. The drop-off from those two third basemen to Riley/Camargo in Atlanta and Starlin Castro/Asdrubal Cabrera in Washington is massive. Like, maybe 50 fewer extra-base hits.

Donaldson and Rendon had 145 combined plate appearances last season against the Phillies. Rendon hit .353 with a 1.102 OPS in his. Donaldson hit six homers, four doubles and drove in 16 runs in his 18 games.

All told, the NL East (aside from the Phillies) lost more than it gained this offseason. Out are Donaldson, Rendon and Dallas Keuchel. In are Hamels and Smith in Atlanta; Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in New York; Will Harris, Castro and Eric Thames in Washington; Corey Dickerson in Miami.

Aaron Nola will not miss facing Donaldson and Rendon. Those two hit a combined .345/.456/.545 with four homers and three doubles in 68 plate appearances against the Phillies' top starter. 

Donaldson is also 9 for 16 lifetime against Zack Wheeler, 6 for 14 with five extra-base hits off Zach Eflin and 4 for 12 with three homers vs. Nick Pivetta.

Rendon is 11 for 21 with four homers and 10 RBI off Pivetta.

Phillies fans may be frustrated by the post-Wheeler/Didi Gregorius period of the offseason, but Phillies pitchers are cool with how it's played out.

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