Leading up to the 2020 season, one of the defaults for a Kris Bryant trade to the Braves was for the Cubs to get Austin Riley in return. After all, Riley had years of valued service time to go. Also, he hadn’t proven his salt yet. For decades, trading a suspect for a veteran has been all the rage. The Cubs took on Cole Liniak as the player-to-be-named-later in the Rod Beck trade with the Red Sox in 1999. Back then, acquiring a player near MLB was often the goal. Since last year’s World Series concluded, six 2020 MLB draft picks have been traded, including Owen Caissie to the Cubs. Recent precedent indicates distance from MLB is tolerable.
I remember being ratio’ed by a number of Braves fans a number of years ago. They were convinced that, not only should the Cubs cough up Victor Caratini (back) to the Braves, but that an insignificant return should be considered swell. Riley-for-Bryant was a logical move as recently as last offseason. The question in production from Riley would be more than made up for by the reduced cost for Riley. Or something.
As any trade talks fire up in 2021, a long, slow, deliberative look at the 2020 and 2019 draft classes are entirely within protocol. Demanding a specific first- or second-round pick might be inappropriate. However, getting two reasonably intriguing pieces for Bryant, particularly if most of the freight is paid, ought to be acceptable.
Jared Schuster, a pitcher out of Wake Forest, was Atlanta’s top choice in 2020. Their second pick was forfeited as a part of the Braves’ cost due to signing a qualifying free agent. That leaves their third through fifth picks, Michigan Wolverines outfielder Jesse Franklin likely played quite a bit with Cubs 2020 third rounder Justin Nwogu. Franklin is unfamiliar to me, but his bonus was $497,500. Fourth-rounder Spencer Strider from Clemson made almost the same bonus Franklin did, $451, 800. Fifth rounder Bryce Elder (pitcher from Texas at Austin) received a bonus bigger than Franklin or Strider ($850,000), and nearly equal to them combined. Asking for at least one of the three in any Bryant trade seems palatable.
Braves 2019 first rounders Shea Langaliers (Baylor catcher) and Braden Shewmake (Texas A&M shortstop) both received signing bonuses over $3 million. I doubt either is a serious candidate in a Bryant swap. Their next four choices had signing bonuses between $212,500 and $600,000. I’m not familiar with any of them. One name that rings a bell is Darius Vines, a pitcher the Cubs once drafted (27th Round, 2017), but couldn’t sign. Third-day preps Vaughn Grissom (11th Round shortstop), Tyler Owens (13th Round pitcher), and Jared Johnson (14th Round pitcher) also received healthy bonuses. Mahki Backstrom (18th Round first baseman) is from the baseball factory at J Serra in Gardena, California. 19th Rounder Kadon Morton (center field) also received nearly a $500,000 bonus. Minding the success of players with a hefty bonus is one way to prioritize trade options.
Most of the Braves’ top 30 prospects are “older” in the post-COVID world. Langeliers from above is fifth. Bryse Wilson, who pitched against the Cubs a week ago Sunday, ranks ninth. Schuster is tenth. Shewmake is 12th. Grissom is 15th. Strider is 22nd. Elder is 25th, Vines is 26th, and Johnson (27th) along with Paolini (28th) were among the grouping I didn’t focus on.
Using the Fangraphs Future Value assessor, three of the noted players are 40s: Strider, Grissom, and Elder. If anything happens here, I could see quite a bit of lobbying going on for one of the three. Who do I prefer? Probably Strider or Grissom, with no serious preference. If I’m taking a pitcher, I’d like for the Cubs to see pictures of his shoulder and elbow. Vines make tons of sense here, with the Cubs former interest in him. Toss Shewmake or Schuster on top of Vines and one of the 40s, and I’d prefer that quite a bit over Austin Riley. They all might wash out, but the Cubs would have years to assess them, and either run them up, or trade them.