Chicago are not thought to be shopping Bryant or anything that drastic, but Theo Epstein has no untouchables and Bryant would be available for the right price. The Cubs are in a difficult spot with limited payroll flexibility and are keen to restock their farm after losing a lot of prospects in trades over the last few seasons.
The Cubs fell short this year with a wildcard loss to the Rockies after just missing out on the division to the Brewers in an historic 163rd game.
Their young core has not delivered consistent performances. Bryant had a down year with two disabled list stints, Anthony Rizzo started the year slowly and others – like Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – have become role players rather than stars.
Still, the prospect of trading 2016 MVP Bryant is extraordinary. Epstein is no stranger to a monster trade, but this would shake the baseball world. Bryant looked set to be a Cub for life after the 2016 season. The fact they would even consider a trade says a lot about the Cubs’ unwillingness to pay the luxury tax.
Salaries are increasing at Wrigley Field. The once cheap, exciting young team is hitting the time when they get paid. That includes Bryant, whose arbitration could become incredibly costly for the Cubs.
Chicago clearly have issues to address in this offseason. They obviously won’t be trading Bryant for a player to be named later or some lowly prospect, but it’s hard to see almost any halfway plausible deal where they are better off.
This can be viewed one of two ways. It’s either open-minded, brave management from Epstein and his accomplices, or it’s an over-the-top reaction to a disappointing year.
The majority of people will be in the second of those groups. Bullpen arms and outfielders are where the Cubs can strengthen. Short of being offered Aaron Judge and Dellin Betances for Bryant, there’s almost no chance they have a better chance of winning in 2019 or 2020 by losing their MVP.
For all we know, that might be the sort of deal Epstein is looking for if he is to trade Bryant.
There’s a certain amount of logic in trying to restock the farm to avoid a period of 100-loss seasons.
In Chicago’s case, though, the window is right now. This is the time where taking on those ‘great now, terrible in two years’ type contracts is borderline understandable. Winning in 2016 might have – and maybe for the best long-term – reigned in the desire to make the rash win-now moves.
Trading Bryant for near-ready prospects, or even younger players, would be an admittance they are biding their time. With Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Rizzo at Wrigley Field right now, this is their time.
Small market teams are criticised all too frequently for not spending. The Cubs trading Bryant on the basis of salary would be just the same. Decreasing their chances of a World Series in 2019 and 2020 would be a hard sell to anyone interested in baseball.
Trading away your star man is a bold move. Doing it after winning 97, 103, 92 and 95 games is a mistake.