I've been following the Cubs since the late 1960s and Kris Bryant is among my five or 10 favorite Cubs. It appears he's committed to testing free agency, and getting a return on his departure is a part of the business of baseball. As Theo Epstein traded Nomar Garciaparra, trading Bryant won't be unique. Whatever is best long-term for the club ought to be examined. This is a look at my potential Bryant trade.
Being "all-in" is a sports axiom that has been over-used almost to the point of numbness. Teams are rarely "all-in" on a season. The Cubs were in 2016, as indicated by their willingness to part with Gleyber Torres. General Manager Jim Hendry was when he was willing to part with Chris Archer and Hak-ju Lee for Matt Garza. An executive branch is "all-in" when they're willing to overpay (versus industry standards) to acquire a specific asset. Locating a team that might be willing to overpay to add Bryant is a key to finding a suitor this off-season.
Jerry Dipoto of the Mariners seems to enjoy making trades. However, as the fourth- or fifth-best team in the American League West, I don't think adding Bryant makes them better than the Astros. Or the Athletics. Or even the Angels or Rangers. Setting a high market value requires a team good enough to reach the post-season with the addition, and a potential pink slip, without it. Brodie Van Wagenen to the rescue.
A former player agent, Van Wagenen took over as the main executive with the Mets last season. He shook up a quiet off-season trading name prospect Jordan Kelenic (you will hear of him, eventually.) and others for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. With mixed results from those two, the Mets are outside-looking-in at the playoffs. Given two more third place finishes. Van Wagenen would likely be out of his job. Regardless who he has stored in the pipeline, they won't help unless he upgrades the parent club without diminishing it in the process. Van Wagenen's Mets look like prime candidates to trade the future for two seasons of Bryant.
Many Cubs fans will want Bryant traded for current assets. After all, the competitive window extends until 2021, amirite? A realistic assessment of the current landscape sees the Astros, Dodgers, Braves, and a handful of other teams with a decent lead in talent over the Cubs right now. This seems as good of a time as any for a bit of a reset. The "Bryant-for-Mookie-Betts" trade isn't the likely path for either team. It isn't that the players are unreasonable in their asks. Both the Cubs and Red Sox want longer-term returns on their assets than a departing second-round choice, which is the current free-agency compensation.
With the Mets, a "known return" might include Jeff McNeil. By parting with McNeil, the Mets path to success in 2020 or 2021 gets significantly harder. For the Mets to buy into a Bryant trade, including too much from the current roster is a poison pill. Whether you're in tune with the Mets prospect pool or not, that's where a Bryant to Flushing Meadows trade begins.
Last June, before the Cubs announced their first-round pick Ryan Jensen, a few minutes of chatter had me thinking the Cubs were interested in prep pitcher Matthew Allan. The hard-throwing Allan and the Cubs didn't agree on a number, and Jensen was announced. The next day, the Mets drafted Allan, who was a big name among the top 50 or so possible picks. In 2019, Allan pitched well enough to retain his luster into the offseason. For a very loose comp, he's a bit like Dylan Cease. If everything plays for Allan, he could be a top-of-the-rotation guy. Similarly, he could succumb to injuries, or the requisite command to strike. Whoever he's with, the fanbase will have a fascinating follow, as long as he's healthy.
In addition, when I was starting my search, Mark Vientos made sense, as well. A third base prospect that has had success through the South Atlantic League so far ( kin of the Midwest League), I've seen nothing to cause me to waver. Vientos was recently named Mets Prospect Hitter of the Year. To some astute followers, this is mildly objectionable, as it somewhat puts Vientos against Cubs prospect Christopher Morel, who figures to be in Myrtle Beach in April at third base. In trade efforts, the goal is to maximize return. Morel and Vientos would make for a challenge, and an upgraded pipeline.
Beyond Bryant for Vientos and Allen, a few parts might go either way. Bryant to the Mets makes sense. Allan to the Cubs makes sense. If there's to be a swap, Vientos would give the Cubs a degree of future clarity at third, especially when paired with Morel. Cubs fans would likely say the Cubs are getting screwed for Bryant. Mets fans probably object to the trade as well. Which is why I'm good with it as a general starting point.
If Bryant is traded, it won't be because he is unclutch. He had three very important homers for the Cubs in the same time frame he received a pain-killing injection. When you watch on your television, you don't see the "pain level" on the same shot as you see RBI and OPS. Bryant may, or may not, be back to his old self for 650 plate appearances in 2020 or 2021. Someone somewhere referred to the 2019 campaign as a slow-motion automobile crash. To not make a move, like a Bryant trade, is to risk a similar season next year, losing ground every lap to the Dodgers and Astros.
Will Allan or Vientos be measurably better than Bryant? The answer falls between "unlikely" and "certainly not." Any rebuild in the future will be harder, as more teams are valuing their prospects. The Cubs will have fewer chances to game the system"and add Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres the same international cycle. If Bryant is dealt, a smaller piece can be added in free agency at third: it doesn't have to be David Bote or else. Baseball decisions are business decisions, even if that isn't the way we want it. My hunch is Bryant to the Mets, with Allan-plus returning. What do you say?
Regarding Kris Bryant, which comes closest to your situation assessment?
This poll is closed
Trade him this offseason, if an offer exists.
Trade him next offseason, as the future is now.
Get two entire years out of him, and accept the second-round pick as compensation.
Trade him in July, sometime, if the Cubs are out of it.
Something else (leave in comments)