Less than 24 hours after signing Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million deal, the Nationals have reportedly already pivoted to their other major position of need: third base.
Anthony Rendon is still a candidate to return to D.C. after Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo left the door open in a press conference Monday. But if the two-time Silver Slugger turns elsewhere, the Nationals are already exploring their options.
Bryant is a lifetime .284 hitter coming off a season in which he posted a .903 OPS and hit 31 home runs. The 2016 NL MVP is signed through the 2021 season but has filed a grievance against the Cubs for manipulating his service time. A decision isn’t expected until January, but Cubs President Theo Epstein told ESPN he’s confident the arbitrator will rule in Chicago’s favor.
The Cubs are exploring trade options in an effort to shed salary after Chicago finished with the third-highest payroll in the majors last season. Bryant, who can play both corner outfield spots as well, figures to net a strong return if the Cubs are able to trade him.
Washington doesn’t have the deepest farm system but could put together a few packages that might pique the Cubs’ interest depending on what path they’re hoping to go down. Here are three trade scenarios that could land Bryant in the District.
Cubs’ goal: Kickstart a rebuild
Nats’ offer: Carter Kieboom, Mason Denaburg, Tim Cate for Kris Bryant
When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, it looked to be the start of a dynasty that would dominate the sport for at least the next half-decade while stars like Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks were under contract.
Instead, Chicago has taken a step back each year. After losing in the National League Championship Series in 2017, the Cubs were knocked out in the Wild Card Game the following season before missing the playoffs entirely in 2019. Epstein expressed frustration with the team’s results in a radio interview last season, saying the Cubs’ “failure to play up to our ability, up to our potential” was the biggest contributor to their inconsistent play.
If the front office is looking to begin a teardown, then the Nationals would have to dig deep in their farm system to put together a viable package.
Kieboom is the 20th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline and would be the centerpiece of negotiations. Denaburg was drafted in the first round in 2017 and considered several years away, but he’d immediately have one of the highest ceilings of any pitchers in the Cubs’ depleted minor-league system. Cate is much farther along than Denaburg and pitched well at High-A Potomac last season, plus he’s left-handed.
The Cubs wouldn’t have an immediate solution at third base, but if the goal is to net as much prospect capital as possible then this would be Washington’s best offer—that is, if Luis Garcia and Jackson Rutledge are untouchable.
Cubs’ goal: Build toward the future but remain competitive
Nats’ offer: Carter Kieboom, Joe Ross, Wil Crowe for Kris Bryant
All things considered, the Nationals probably won’t be in the running for Bryant if the Cubs are seeking solely prospects. Washington’s farm system isn’t much better off than Chicago’s and there are plenty of other contending clubs who could put together a better deal.
But if the Cubs are looking to fill a need while also dumping Bryant’s contract, the Nationals have plenty of back-end starters with some value. Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are all out of options heading into 2020 and likely competing for the No. 5 spot in the Nationals’ rotation. Washington could make that decision easier by shipping one of them to the Cubs, a team that also has several question marks at the back of its rotation.
Washington could allow the Cubs to pick their favorite of Ross, Fedde and Voth then package their choice with Kieboom and a prospect like Wil Crowe or Sterling Shepherd. Crowe and Shepherd are both knocking on the door of the majors and could contribute either in the rotation or the bullpen as soon as next season.
The Cubs would then be able to slot Kieboom in at either second or third base with Javier Báez entrenched at shortstop. He’d then have David Bote, Ian Happ and possibly Ben Zobrist behind him in case he struggles to start the year.
Cubs’ goal: Cut salary but don’t lose any present value
Nats’ offer: Adam Eaton, Joe Ross, Jackson Rutledge for Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber
If the Nationals deem Kieboom untouchable, as they have in the past, then they’re going to need to get creative if they’re going to want Bryant.
One of the Cubs’ biggest weaknesses over the past few years has been at leadoff. Since Dexter Fowler departed for free agency after the 2016 season, 56 different players have batted first in the order for Chicago. Eaton would be the bonafide leadoff hitter they’ve been looking for and could slide in for Schwarber at left field.
Rutledge was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2019 draft and is considered to have potential ace upside down the line. If the Nats won’t trade Kieboom, he’s probably the guy they’d have to let go. Ross (or Voth or Fedde) slides into the No. 5 spot in the rotation for pennies compared to anyone on the open market.
Schwarber, while a better hitter than Eaton, is actually projected to make slightly less than him in 2020 at $8 million (compared to Eaton’s $9.5 million salary). But given Schwarber has two years of control, he would make more in arbitration in 2021 than Eaton’s $10.5 million team option.
All in all, the Cubs would save around $15 million in 2020 salary alone by making this deal while adding a pitching prospect who has the potential to be a top-flight starter, a leadoff man and a cheap starter who would be in the mix for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
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