Kris Bryant is due to arrive to Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz., later this week. By all indications, he will be in the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup in Milwaukee on March 26.
Yet, it’s also true that the Cubs remain engaged in communication with other clubs about the possibility of trading the 2016 National League MVP. Sources say the Cubs have spoken with multiple teams in recent weeks concerning Bryant, including the Rangers, Rockies, Nationals and Phillies.
While there is no evidence those discussions have progressed, it’s noteworthy that the Cubs have declined to establish a deadline by which the team will halt the conversations and assure Bryant that he will remain in Chicago for the long term. Bryant’s future remains unsettled, as he is due to gain free agency following the 2021 season, after the team prevailed over Bryant in a recent grievance filed over service time.
In other words, the Bryant trade talks aren’t about to dissipate completely anytime soon -- and they could intensify closer to the July 31 Trade Deadline, especially if the Cubs have a mediocre or poor first half.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein characterized the Bryant trade rumblings as “part of the business and something that players have to learn to deal with, especially as they move closer to free agency and especially if they’re not on longer-term contracts.”
Epstein credited Bryant for asserting his rights as a player through the grievance process and described a trade as “less likely” the closer the calendar moves toward Opening Day.
“There’s still some chatter going on across the industry, but we’re kind of turning the page, honestly, with our focus,” Epstein said, according to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian. “We’re starting the 2020 season. We’re excited about the group that we have in camp. It’s time to pull together and focus on winning games. That offseason narrative will just kind of stay upstairs.”
As one source put it on Tuesday, the Cubs’ approach to Bryant doesn’t resemble the urgency shown by the Red Sox in the latter stages of the Mookie Betts trade talks with the Dodgers. The Red Sox were motivated by substantial luxury-tax considerations to move Betts and David Price; the Cubs don’t face the same pressure.
The Rangers are one of the most intriguing Bryant suitors to monitor, partially because the Cubs would rather not deal him to a fellow NL contender. Texas has made no secret of its desire to add a right-handed bat for the middle of the order; the team fell short in its pursuits of free agents Anthony Rendon and Nick Castellanos this offseason.
In the immediate term, the Rangers may have an easier time trading for Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, a left-handed slugger coming off a career-high 36 home runs in 2019. But Bryant is the better roster fit for Texas, especially since veteran third baseman Todd Frazier could move across the diamond to first base.
The Cubs and Rockies have not made progress on a superstar-for-superstar trade of Bryant for Nolan Arenado, although the possibility has been discussed at some level. Each player is two seasons away from the right to free agency; for Arenado, that is in the form of an opt-out clause in his long-term contract. Arenado appears increasingly likely to exercise the opt-out, given his dissatisfaction with the Rockies that became public this offseason.
Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich gave a short answer when asked about Arenado’s status on Tuesday, according to MLB.com's Thomas Harding: “Nothing. There’s no comment. I haven’t had any comment to this point, so we’ll move past that. Next question.”
Sources with knowledge of the Nationals’ thinking continue to downplay the chances they will acquire Bryant, citing possible luxury-tax complications of adding his salary. And the Phillies are wary of parting with prospects from a farm system that has thinned in recent years, hoping instead that 23-year-old prospect Alec Bohm is ready to assume the everyday third-base job within the next calendar year.