A torrid stretch of losing has the Cubs in sell mode, and they have a plethora of current and former All-Stars that could be game-changing players for a potential playoff team. Given the recent loss of Ronald Acuña, it’s fair to wonder if the Braves will actually be buying at the trade deadline. However, they are still only four games back, and if they can somehow inch even closer before the end of the month, the Braves have to consider at least adding another piece or two, especially with key players like Huascar Ynoa and Travis d’Arnaud expected to return in August. Still, even if the Braves do decide to buy, I find a potential trade with the Cubs to be a long shot.
The four pieces from the Cubs most likely to be on the move before the trade deadline are Kris Bryant, Craig Kimbrel, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo. Bryant has put together a very good bounce-back campaign for the Cubs this season, boasting an .854 OPS with 16 homers, and is in the final year of his contract. Chicago could hang onto him and attempt to re-sign him this offseason, but it seems more likely he is playing in another uniform come August.
If we’re talking about bounce backs, nobody has done so better than Craig Kimbrel. The long-time Atlanta Braves closer really struggled in his first two seasons with the Cubs but is 20/22 in save opportunities this year with a 0.57 ERA and 15.3 K/9. Kimbrel is once again one of the most feared ninth-inning men in the game and would surely put a fix to what has haunted the Braves all season long — finishing games.
Baez is another star that could be on the move before the end of the month. The two-time All-Star shortstop may only be hitting .238, but his 21 homers and great defense at shortstop will attract many contending teams. Like Bryant, though, he’s in the final year of his contract. Rizzo also could be dealt at the trade deadline, but because he and Freddie Freeman play the same position, I don’t see the Braves having much interest.
Of these four, Craig Kimbrel is the only one I could see the Braves attempting to make a move for. Because of Acuña’s injury, it doesn’t make much sense to go all-in on 2021. If Atlanta does end up being buyers at the deadline, they need to be looking for players who can contribute past this season. Kimbrel is the only one of the four mentioned above whose contract goes beyond 2021, as he has a $16 million vested option in 2022. Given that the Braves need to improve their bullpen for this year and beyond, trading for Kimbrel could help them significantly. Still, the combination of his contract and prospect-price, make a deal unlikely.
With that being said, if there’s one Cub that I could see the Braves trading for, it’s Willson Contreras. Another two-time All-Star, he’s one of the best catchers in the game, under contract through 2022, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s the brother of top Braves prospect Williams Contreras. He could be the perfect stopgap catcher for the next season-and-a-half, and the Braves could decide whether or not to re-sign him after the 2022 season. Contreras is probably the guy on the Cubs roster that makes the most sense for Alex Anthopoulos to inquire about; however, I’m unsure how serious the Cubs would be about trading their All-Star catcher.
In short — no, I don’t believe the Cubs and Braves are a very good match when it comes to potential trades before July 31st. I’m not ready to guarantee the Braves will be sellers, but whatever moves they make will need to help them past just this season. Most of Chicago’s players are rentals, and expensive ones at that. I don’t see the Braves making a move for any of these guys over the next few weeks.