With the Cubs coming off of a 2019 season in which they underachieved (much like the Red Sox), finishing 3rd (also like the Red Sox) in the NL Central, their window might be closed. Joe Maddon is gone. Yu Darvish’s contract is gaudy. Their farm system is barren. There are a lot of parallels to the Mookie Betts situation, but this one is different in a few ways.
It seems Atlanta is keen on keeping Josh Donaldson. He was a catalyst in last year’s lineup and came up with some dazzling defensive plays along with timely hits. Donaldson is, however, going to be 34 going into next season and will be looking for a multi-year deal. He very much outplayed his $23 million contract in 2019, and I think Atlanta would be wise to offer him something around two years & $50 – $60 million.
But what if that doesn’t get it done?
It happens all the time; a team who believes they are right on the verge of being competitive or a piece away from one last run will overpay in free agency, and Donaldson is a prime candidate to receive an offer that may not be wise three years from now. So what’s plan B?
Right now, it’s Austin Riley. Following his blazing hot start, he was left off the playoff roster in favor of Rafael Ortega after hitting .226 in June, .156 in July, missing almost all of August, and hitting .132 in September. Since June, he’s hit four home runs. I still have a ton of faith in him, but the Braves cannot afford to throw him to the wolves with no backup plan.
What about other free agents? Anthony Rendon is out there, but he’ll sign a megadeal that Anthopoulos cannot afford. I think he ends up with the Angels. The free-agent class this offseason is impoverished, especially at third base, but the trade market has an intriguing candidate. Enter, Theo Epstein.
With Chicago’s farm ranking in the bottom three in all of baseball, it might be time for the Cubbies to retool. That could mean dealing 2016 MVP Kris Bryant. Look at these career numbers
2015: .275/.369/.488/.858 with 26 HR and 99 RBI
2016: .292./.385/.554/.939 with 39 HR and 102 RBI
2017: .295/.409/.537/.946 with 29 HR and 73 RBI
2018: .272./.374/.460/.834 with 13 HR and 52 RBI (Missed Time Due to Injury)
2019: .282/.382/.521/.903 with 31 HR and 77 RBI
Except for a dip in an injury-plagued season, he has been as consistent as they come. The Cubs are also starved for pitching, and their prospect cabinet is pretty bare. They don’t have a single arm graded above 50 or in the MLBPipleine Top 100, which isn’t ideal when considering their rotation was the primary reason why they did not reach the postseason.
A lot of former stars in that rotation and a lot of money too, about $85.5 million this past season to be exact. Hendricks is signed on a good deal through 2024, Lester will make $20+ until 2021, Darvish has a $20 mil player option through 2023, and Hamels is a pending free agent. Kimbrel is on the hook for $16 mil after posting a 6.38 ERA. This team is too expensive not to be making the playoffs. That’s why the Braves could be a perfect trade partner, flipping some young arms on the cusp of being MLB-ready in exchange for Bryant, who made $12.9 in arbitration last season, revamping the Cubs rotation while filling Atlanta’s void at third base.
Bryant has two more seasons of arbitration before being eligible for free agency in 2022. What would it cost to get it done? I think one or two top ten arms would be required, along with Austin Riley or Braden Shewmake and a couple of lower-level underachievers. Chicago could also be more interested in major league ready talent like Sean Newcomb. Bryant might be worth the haul if Donaldson walks, but the Braves’ priority should be locking down the Bringer of Rain on a reasonable deal, so they don’t have to worry about making up for 40 homers and a .900 OPS at third base.