No, don’t panic, Kris Bryant does not have the coronavirus, but the pandemic could very well affect him.
Back in January, Bryant was the hottest trade topic on the internet and among the media. Between his grievance that cost the Cubs their offseason plans and the looming feeling that he won’t re-sign in Chicago, Bryant was obviously the Cubs’ #1 trade target. Then Spring Training started.
Bryant looked decent in a limited set of exhibition games. Out of nowhere he emerged as the Cubs’ leadoff man but failed to rake as the team had hoped. During 29 plate appearances this spring (25 at-bats), Bryant posted a slash line of only .240/.310./400 with no stolen bases in two attempts. He admits that he was given the spot because he volunteered.
Bryant has had only 31 plate appearances (28 AB) as the Cubs’ leadoff man during his career. He did amass a nice slash line of .321/.387/.464 out of the number-one slot, but the sample size is small.
Why Trade Him Now?
About midway through the offseason, Theo Epstein said, “In the middle of this season, if we have a legit World Series contender, that is really meaningful. But if we don’t, you can’t be blind to the realities of the following 18 months.”
With the season shortened (and possibly cancelled), there’s no telling where the trade deadline will fall. It’s almost inconceivable to think MLB will hold to their July 31st deadline, but they have to establish a deadline somewhere before the regular season ends.
If Kris Bryant is to secure a spot with the Cubs, the team will have to come out strong as soon as the season starts. If not, the trade rumors will start flying once again.
Pros & Cons of Keeping Bryant
Obviously, Kris Bryant isn’t some average player, which is precisely why I think he may be the first to go. Bryant is playing for $18.6M this season (or a prorated portion of that, anyway) and the Cubs are desperate to get back under the salary cap. After losing his grievance over manipulation of his service time, he’ll have a final arbitration year in 2021, before finally gaining free agency prior to the 2022 season.
Bryant’s agent (Scott Boras) is notorious for demanding almost ransom-like salaries for his players. During the course of this past offseason, Boras’ players signed deals worth over a billion dollars worth of contracts. Bryant knows the Cubs got the best of him in the grievance, and so does Scott Boras. The two are going to be seeking a big contract, and while I think the Cubs would likely want to keep him, they won’t pay what Boras will demand.
The Cubs have plenty of options at the hot corner, but admittedly none as experienced as Bryant. If the Cubs do deal Bryant, you could expect to see David Bote take on a larger role. Ian Happ is also an option at third. While he’d be a longshot, it’s not inconceivable to think that Javier Baez could move to third with Nico Hoerner at short.
The Cubs have plenty of choices to make with regard to Kris Bryant and the team’s direction. Trading an MVP third baseman isn’t an easy choice. In the end, it’ll be Tom Ricketts’ checkbook and not Bryant’s ability that decides.
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