Reports of Kris Bryant’s demise have proven premature. The 2016 National League MVP is playing like, well, an MVP again here in 2021. He’s healthy, he’s adjusted to the high fastball and he boasts a fantastic .306/.391/.658 slash and entered Friday with a career-best 194 OPS+.
But Bryant’s in his walk year on a Cubs team that traded Yu Darvish over the winter and has struggled to gain traction, to date. Little wonder, then, that when MLB.com reporter Mark Feinsand recently polled executives on the stars most likely to be dealt this summer, Bryant finished second behind Rockies shortstop Trevor Story.
It's too early for the Cubs to trade Bryant, but it’s not too early to speculate on where he could land. On the one hand, his market will be limited to teams willing to take on the remainder of Bryant’s $19.5 million salary and surrender quality young talent. On the other hand, Bryant’s big stick and positional flexibility (he’s played not just his native third base but all three outfield positions and even some first base) create a wide array of teams who could conceivably slot him in.
Here are 13 fun fits for Bryant, broken into categories.
UNLIKELY … BUT INTRIGUING
The Dodgers already have a stash of stars, and, having already blown past the luxury tax threshold to sign Trevor Bauer, it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that they could take on Bryant’s remaining salary and add yet another protective layer on their pennant push. L.A.’s offense has underperformed thus far, and the prolonged absence of Cody Bellinger, as well as other injury issues, has affected the outfield and depth.
So sure, a conversation could conceivably be had here. It just seems far more likely that the Dodgers will target bullpen and bench help in the midseason market.
The club simply doesn’t appear prone toward a rental splash at this stage of the game, so Cleveland belongs in this category.
But purely in baseball terms, yes, this is an obvious fit. Though Cleveland has José Ramírez entrenched at third base, the club’s production in the outfield and at first base has, rather unsurprisingly, been ugly. So if Cleveland were to remain in the AL Central mix on the might of its pitching staff, it would be feasible for a team with the lowest payroll in the game and a bunch of 21-and-under talent on the farm to swing an impact acquisition like this. Just don’t bet on it actually happening.
An underperforming and injury-prone lineup has room for Bryant’s big bat, which would significantly boost the odds for this World-Series-or-bust bunch. With Gio Urshela at third, the best fit for Bryant would be left field, where Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner just haven’t gotten it done. The Yanks’ left field fWAR (minus-0.6) is the second worst in MLB, behind Texas.
For now, though, pitching looks to be the Yankees’ biggest concern in the midseason trade market, and this club has stopped short of making the big summer splash, even when the need is glaring. So don’t hold your breath on this one, either.
Over the winter, I urged the Mariners to make some go-for-it moves in a winnable AL West. They, uh, didn’t listen.
But the division still looks winnable, and the Mariners are outperforming expectations in the early going. If it continues -- and yes, that’s very much an “if” at the moment -- then here’s a way to get them over the hump and end the longest postseason drought in the sport. Left field and first base have been trouble spots for this lineup, and Jerry Dipoto loves to make a deal (just probably not this deal).
The Royals are contending in the AL Central ahead of everybody’s schedule -- except their own. Making a midseason splash of this magnitude would be unconventional and very much unexpected, but the Royals have long operated by their own playbook, and Dayton Moore has not shied away from the big splash in the past.
Jorge Soler, who has had the most plate appearances for the Royals at both right field and designated hitter, and third baseman Hunter Dozier are both off to slow starts offensively, so there are potentially at-bats to be had here. The injury issues affecting the White Sox and the sluggish start by the Twins have created opportunity in the AL Central.
Toronto is seemingly set at third base with Cavan Biggio, in left field with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and in right field with Teoscar Hernández. But Biggio and Gurriel have struggled, and Hernández only recently returned from the COVID-19 injured list. Biggio’s struggles with fastballs (.175 average, .246 slugging percentage entering Friday) are a particular concern. And while that can be addressed in the long-term, there’s no doubt the short-term boost from Bryant would further legitimize this lineup in what figures to be a fascinating battle for the East down the stretch.
Oh, there’s also this: The Blue Jays drafted Bryant in the 18th round of the 2010 Draft but ultimately couldn’t compel him to forgo his commitment to the University of San Diego. Here’s their chance to get him.
The Mets and Cubs discussed Bryant in the offseason -- even after New York had acquired Francisco Lindor -- so there’s a base to work off here. And with the Mets’ offense sputtering early on, there is added incentive to make another splash in Steve Cohen’s first season as owner.
Between Dominic Smith’s early offensive struggles in left and J.D. Davis’ continuing hand injury woes (along with Davis’ defensive concerns at third base), there are ways to accommodate Bryant in the everyday lineup in Queens for the remainder of 2021, even if the early Lindor outcomes might scare the Mets away from another mega-extension.
Perhaps this belongs in the “unlikely” category, as the Giants’ contention status might be built on shaky ground. They’ve played well to this point, though, and, unlike some others on this list, they have the long-term financial ability to accommodate Bryant beyond 2021. This would be a chance to get him comfortable with his new surroundings. “Bryant” does rhyme with “Giant,” after all.
Third baseman Evan Longoria is under contract through 2022 and has been fantastic this season, but left fielder Alex Dickerson has struggled and dealt with a shoulder issue, so … maybe? San Francisco general manager Scott Harris knows Bryant well from his days in the Cubs' front office.
Prior to re-signing Marcell Ozuna, the Braves were the absolute best fit for Bryant’s services. But obviously, a trade didn’t transpire over the winter, and Ozuna was inked to a four-year deal. Though Ozuna has struggled this season to live up to last year’s sixth-place finish in the NL MVP voting, the Braves aren’t going to bench him.
But at Bryant’s regular position at third base, there is the 24-year-old Austin Riley. He has been an above-average offensive performer this year (.277/.373/.386 slash), but his .254 expected batting average and .385 batting average on balls in play entering Friday suggest some batted-ball luck in his favor. Bryant would be more of a sure thing for a Braves team that came agonizingly close to the World Series last season. (Riley could conceivably function as the centerpiece of the Cubs’ return for Bryant, though that would be a painful price for a rental on Atlanta’s part.)
It has not been the smoothest of seasons for the Nats. But to exist in the NL East is to be a contender in the NL East, and so we must label them exactly that for now. Bryant felt like a fit prior to 2021 because of the Nats’ need at third base, and absolutely nothing has changed.
Washington determined Carter Kieboom, who has a .542 OPS in 167 career plate appearances, needed more developmental time, and so the primary third baseman has been veteran Starlin Castro, whose ceiling is limited. Should the Nats remain in the NL East race, they’d have reason to go for it in the last year of the Max Scherzer contract, and a lineup with Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Bryant in the top half is one to dream on.
With the longest playoff drought in the National League and a lineup built around the 28-year-old Bryce Harper and the 30-year-old J.T. Realmuto, the Phillies have to seriously consider any opportunity to get over the hump.
Putting Bryant at third base would mean temporarily punting on or repositioning Alec Bohm, who finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting last season but has struggled in his sophomore season. Alternatively, the Phillies could put Bryant in left and embrace the risk of putting the 34-year-old Andrew McCutchen in center field, which has been an offensive wasteland for Philadelphia this year. Or Bryant himself could take a stab at center, where he has dabbled a little bit this season and in seasons past. Whatever the alignment, the bottom line would be Dave Dombrowski going all-in with the NL East looking winnable for a Phillies team desperate to advance.
With Alex Cora back at the helm, Boston has re-asserted itself in the AL East standings. Just imagine adding both Bryant and a healthy Chris Sale this summer. Mostly, imagine the reaction from Yankees fans. Wouldn’t it be worth it just for that?
Bryant could take at-bats from scuffling youngsters Bobby Dalbec (.576 OPS) at first and Franchy Cordero (.460 OPS) in left and make this unquestionably the most imposing lineup in baseball.
THE BEST FIT
The most fun -- and possibly feasible -- option of all is for Bryant to stay in Chicago … but not with the Cubs. The South Siders’ outfield has been wrecked by months-long injuries to Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert. The White Sox outfield OPS (.631) is the third worst in MLB. There’s also no telling if designated hitter Yermín Mercedes’ out-of-nowhere output will continue.
Bryant would be an instant upgrade and bring postseason pedigree to a rising White Sox team that has the goods to go the distance. And while this would require a full-time move to the outfield (Yoán Moncada is entrenched at third), at least Bryant wouldn’t have to change his place of residence. The Cubs and White Sox broke down a barter barrier with the José Quintana trade, and soon it might be time to start talking again.