CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant's name will continue to spin through the tornado of trade rumors that has torn across the baseball world this offseason. Friday's one-year settlement with the Cubs -- while not an insignificant step for both sides -- will not calm that storm.
Prior to Friday's deadline for teams to exchange proposed salary figures with any unsigned arbitration-eligible players, Bryant penned his signature on the dotted line for $18.6 million, sources told MLB.com. The club has not confirmed the figure.
That eliminates the speculation about how much the star third baseman will earn in 2020, but it also gives potential trade partners another cost to consider.
Inside the Cubs' front office, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his team are evaluating a slew of scenarios in an effort to balance winning in 2020, trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold and keeping future seasons in mind. At the Winter Meetings last month, Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, reiterated that his side of the table is not opposed to discussing a long-term extension.
"Theo and I are talking all the time," Boras said, "and certainly when he and ownership want to discuss anything along those lines, our ears are open, no doubt."
There are a few factors fueling the constant trade chatter surrounding Bryant. Atop the list is whether Epstein and Co. view extending Bryant as a realistic road. Next, Chicago is keeping in mind that a key group of core players could hit free agency after the 2021-22 seasons. There is also a service-time grievance involving Bryant that is holding up some aspects of the Cubs' winter.
If Bryant's camp wins his grievance -- stemming from the timing of his promotion to the Majors in 2015 -- the third baseman would be eligible for free agency next winter. If the arbitrator rules in favor of the Cubs, then he will remain under club control through the '21 campaign.
"I think we're fairly confident in what the outcome's going to be, but the timing I guess is a bit frustrating," Epstein said at the Winter Meetings. "It'd be nice to have that final confirmation, but I think we're operating with what our understanding of what the likely outcome will be and moving forward that way."
Those comments were made almost exactly a month ago. There has been no firm update on when the arbitrator's ruling is expected to arrive, though it could still be a couple weeks.
In any trade talks, teams will not only be keeping Bryant's $18.6 million for 2020 in mind, but his potential cost in '21 via a fourth arbitration year. It goes without saying that the acquisition cost in terms of players would also take on a much different look if Bryant is allowed to hit the open market next offseason.
Last season, a 28-year-old Bryant hit .282 with 31 home runs, 35 doubles, 77 RBIs and a .903 OPS in an All-Star showing for the Cubs. Chicago, however, missed the postseason for the first time since 2014, and the roster in place has seen very little change dating back to the '18 season, when the Cubs were knocked off the October stage in the National League Wild Card Game.
Including Bryant, there are 16 Major League (non-split) contracts locked in for 2020 for just over $177 million. When factoring in the remainder of the roster and other contract obligations, the Cubs' payroll for '20 is already in the $200 million range. The Competitive Balance Tax payroll, which uses the average annual value of contracts, projects to be right in the neighborhood of the $208 million luxury tax threshold.
If the Cubs want to avoid the 30-percent tax on overages (the rate for going over the first threshold for a second straight year), then trades might be necessary to free up some funds. That would also be a potential avenue for trying to make an impact addition -- such as trying to re-sign free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos.
Multiple teams entered this offseason in the market for a third baseman. Once Anthony Rendon signed a blockbuster contract with the Angels, that left Josh Donaldson as the best available option on the open market. Once Donaldson makes a decision on where to sign, teams that missed out could try to pry Bryant away from the Cubs. Colorado's Nolan Arenado has also had his name churning in the rumor mill.
Count the Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, Twins and Rangers among the teams that could jump into the fray for a third baseman. If the Cubs pulled the trigger on a trade involving Bryant, the asking price would be understandably steep. And expect Chicago to try to address its need for rotation help or an upgrade in center as part of the package.
So while Bryant's 2020 salary has been settled upon, there will still be some waiting on the part of the Cubs and other teams. Bryant has remained quiet publicly to this point this offseason, but he is among the list of players expected to attend what should be an eventful Cubs Convention next weekend in Chicago.