How Donaldson deal impacts Cubs, Bryant

January 15th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant is listed among the planned participants at Cubs Convention this weekend. Barring something unexpected, he will don his white jersey with blue pinstripes and take the stage for the opening ceremonies on Friday night, saluting the fans who pack into the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

While Bryant's name is expected to be announced at the Cubs' annual winter event, it will keep being floated in trade speculation, especially after the Josh Donaldson domino fell on Tuesday night. That brought the potential market for Bryant more into focus with less than a month remaining until the start of Spring Training.'s Mark Feinsand reported Tuesday that Donaldson agreed to a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins. Combined with Anthony Rendon's decision earlier this offseason to sign with the Angels, the top free-agent options for third base are now off the board. That leaves the teams that missed out -- the Braves and Nationals are atop that list -- now sifting through alternative plans.

The Cubs' position

On Friday, the Cubs avoided arbitration with Bryant via a one-year pact worth $18.6 million. All together, Chicago spent more than $40 million on its six arbitration-eligible players, which keeps the projected payroll right around the first luxury-tax threshold of $208 million. If the Cubs want to ensure they stay under that line, the team has to consider trades.

While the Cubs have not openly discussed their payroll ceiling, it is that situation that has helped fuel speculation and sourced reports about Chicago being open-minded about trading from its core group (Bryant, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber being mentioned most often). The Cubs are also trying to plan for the next several seasons, while still contending in the immediate picture.

In Bryant, the Cubs have an MVP-caliber player, so the asking price is going to be understandably steep. And, as the field of potential suitors narrows, Chicago can dig in its heels to an extent in an effort to negotiate for an impact package. The Cubs are not entering a rebuild, so it is young Major League talent that they want in return. Help for the rotation or center field would top the wish list.

The possible suitors

From the Cubs' perspective, the Braves present the most logical landing spot in a potential Bryant deal. Atlanta boasts a pile of young talent and one of the top farm systems in baseball. With the Braves missing out on re-signing Donaldson, they are also left in need of a middle-of-the-lineup bat. The internal options for third consist of Austin Riley and Johan Camargo.

The Nationals lost out on re-signing Rendon and convincing Donaldson to test out a different National League East uniform. Internally, they have infield prospect Carter Kieboom on the horizon, and a combination of veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Howie Kendrick to mix and match. The Nats and Braves have reportedly balked at the Cubs' asking price.

The D-backs were recently reported to have "explored" Bryant as a possibility. The Rangers are also on the hunt for an impact bat, though outfielders Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna have been linked to Texas more of late. The Dodgers -- both with financial fortitude and young talent to offer -- also lurk as a potential bidder. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has also attracted interest, but his contract ($234 million over seven years with a full no-trade clause and an opt out after 2021) comes with some obstacles.

The other unknown

Donaldson's decision was one of two factors that have kept trade talks about Bryant in neutral for the Cubs and inquiring clubs. The other is the decision over the service-time grievance filed by Bryant's camp over the timing of his promotion to the Majors in 2015.

If Bryant wins his case, he would become a free-agent next offseason. If the arbitrator rules in favor of the Cubs, things will stay status quo and the star third baseman will remain under club control through the '21 campaign. That ruling will directly impact the potential return that the Cubs would receive in a trade for Bryant, leaving Chicago and any interested teams in a holding pattern.

In the meantime, Bryant is a big part of the Cubs' present and will play a role in the team's future, one way or another. Perhaps the more realistic scenario will be for Chicago to hold onto Bryant, seeing how he and the team as a whole perform under new manager David Ross in the games leading up to the July 31 Trade Deadline.