Buzz regarding the possibility of a trade that would send third baseman Kris Bryant from the Chicago Cubs to the Philadelphia Phillies has once again re-surfaced in recent days.
Some of that is simple wild speculation, fueled in part by the pending three-team trade involving the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Minnesota Twins. That deal would send superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and veteran southpaw David Price to Los Angeles.
One thing that a big trade in Major League Baseball frequently does is spur immediate talk of the next big player that might be dealt. So, that is certainly a part of the equation here.
But another part of the equation is the building reality that, despite oddsmakers seeing the Phillies as a leading contender entering 2020 spring training, many baseball talent evaluators still place the club no better than third-best in the National League East Division.
It has also become common knowledge around the game that Chicago is shopping Bryant, who can become a free agent following the 2021 season.
Bryant could become a pivotal player in that NL East race should the Cubs really decide to actively shop him. All three of the Phillies top division rivals, the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, and New York Mets, could use an impactful starting third baseman.
Players are scheduled to report for spring training beginning next week. The Phillies enter their preparations for the coming season with Scott Kingery slotted in as the starting third baseman, keeping that position warm for top prospect Alec Bohm.
In a recent evaluation of the position among the NL East clubs, I generously slotted Kingery in at third in my ranking of those players currently slotted in as hot corner starters. Adding Bryant would give the Phillies the top player at the position in the division.
The scheduled starters for the defending World Series champion Nationals and two-time defending NL East champion Braves are among the biggest question marks for those teams at this point. Adding Bryant would push either club, already arguably better overall, further ahead of the Phillies.
So, when considering a deal with the Cubs that would bring Bryant to Philly, there are three questions that need answering. I’ll take a stab at asking and answering each.
What would Kris Bryant add to the Phillies?
Bryant was the first round pick of the Cubs in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of San Diego as the second player taken overall.
He reached the big-leagues in 2015 at age 23 and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award for a season in which he slammed 26 homers, 62 extra-base hits, and drove in 99 runs.
The following season, Bryant became the National League Most Valuable Player. He slashed .292/.385/.554 with 39 home runs, 77 extra-base hits, 102 RBIs, and 121 runs scored. Bryant capped his season by fielding a grounder and firing to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the final out as the Cubs won the franchise’ first World Series title in nearly a century.
Bryant is a three-time NL All-Star. Over five seasons in Major League Baseball he has produced 138 homers and has a career .284/.385/.516 slash line. He has also shown some versatility defensively in handling work at both corner outfield spots, as well as playing in a few games at first base with Chicago over the last couple of seasons.
The Phillies would not be adding Bryant to play left field or first base, at least not on a regular basis. Not at this stage of his career. He would be their third baseman for years to come. While Bryant will likely never contend for a Gold Glove, neither would he hurt the club at third base.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Bryant is a long-time good friend of Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper, also a Vegas native. The two are virtually the same age, with Bryant having just turned 28 last month. They have known one another since they were children, and played both with and against one another while growing up.
Bryant would add another All-Star caliber ballplayer to the Phillies starting lineup. He and his family would bring true friends for franchise cornerstone Harper and his family to socialize with. And he would add another marquee name to help attract even more Phillies fans out to Citizens Bank Park.
What would it cost to bring Kris Bryant to the Phillies?
This is a big question for a few reasons. One of the biggest is that element of competing against both the Braves and Nationals for his services. Atlanta in particular would seem to have the prospect assets to at least match any Phillies offer.
Each of those clubs arguably has as much of a need at the position as the Phillies, if not more so. Each of those clubs is a legitimate contender already. Bryant would push either of those teams closer to making a long October run. Motivation for both to be involved in talks with the Cubs would appear to be there.
What this does is raise the price for the Phillies if they seriously want their package to win out in a bidding war for Bryant with Atlanta and Washington.
A package for Bryant would absolutely start with top hitting prospect Bohm, who could then become the third baseman of the near future in Chicago. But Bohm alone would not be enough.
The Phillies would have to send at least two more players in such a deal. One of those would need to be a pitcher with some upside. Another would have to be some other prospect with upside.
Would the Phillies ultimately have to decide on whether to part with both Bohm and top pitching prospect Spencer Howard in such a deal? Normally I would say no. That is especially the case when considering what the Dodgers had to part with to get the Betts deal done.
Los Angeles is reported to be sending 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo to Boston and veteran pitcher Kenta Maeda to Minnesota in order to get the deal done.
There was rumored to be some element of competition for Betts in this deal as well. The Dodgers up-and-coming division rivals in San Diego were also said to be interested in Betts, and the Padres have a strong minor league system from which to offer a prospect package.
What is not known is exactly how high a price the Padres were ultimately willing to pay. Also, the Dodgers are reportedly giving Boston some salary relief in the deal, taking on half of the $96 million still owed to Price over the next three seasons. So it’s a different kind of deal.
If the Phillies aren’t willing to put Howard into such a deal, and the likelihood is that they would not, then could they still offer enough to beat out the Braves or Nationals potential offers?
The Phillies could put together a package of Bohm, Kingery, and either of two other pitching prospects, Francisco Morales or Adonis Medina. Morales has a higher ceiling at this point. But by including Kingery, they might be able to get the Cubs to go for Medina instead. Chicago might prefer young infield prospect Luis Garcia, which might alleviate putting Kingery into the deal.
Is Bryant worth the price it would cost?
The Phillies would be getting a player with five years of big-league experience. A three-time All-Star, including last season during which he slammed 31 homers, slashed .282/.382/.521, and scored 108 runs. A former NL MVP who has already won a World Series championship.
While Bryant would only have two seasons of contractual control left it isn’t difficult to see him agreeing to a long-term deal. That would keep he and Harper together as the Phillies 1-2 lineup punch for at least the next seven or eight years.
There is an old baseball axiom that says prospects are prospects. While evaluators can gauge their potential, there is no way to know how a kid with no big-league experience is going to perform against the best players in the world under the glare of the largest spotlight on the biggest stage.
I believe that the Phillies need something even more than another strong offensive weapon. It has been and remains my assertion that the Phillies need another proven, talented, winning veteran starting pitcher for their rotation more than anything else. But that is a difficult piece to acquire, and should not keep general manager Matt Klentak from making his team better right now.
Bryant has proven himself to be one of the top offensive performers in baseball. He is in his prime. He is a lifelong friend of the Phillies resident superstar. He would help close the gap even further between the Phillies and the top teams in the National League. This is a deal they should find a way to get done.
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