It’s understandable for excitement to build regarding Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant, especially considering we found out earlier this week that the 28-year-old lost his painfully long grievance against MLB, meaning he must wait two more seasons before hitting the free-agent market. I mean, consider the facts here: Bryant is a three-time All-Star, a 2015 NL RoY, a 2016 MVP and has earned votes regarding the latter in all but one of his five major league seasons; not to mention the guy has averaged 28 homers, 81 RBI and a slash line of .284/.385/.516 during his career in Chicago. Bryant is a lock for 5-6 WAR per season and has the potential to pop off 8 WAR at any point, shown by his 7.9-WAR season in 2016 when he was the NL’s Most Valuable Player, slugging 39 homers while knocking in 102 runs and batting .292. As you can see, there’s a lot to like about Bryant, including the fact that you can get all of that production shown above for about the price of a mid-tier free agent, as he’ll most likely earn a little over $40 million combined during his last two arbitration seasons (including the $18.5 million he is set to make in 2020).
I recently wrote about how the Braves were right for passing on just-traded outfielder, Starling Marte, a player Atlanta had been attracted to seemingly all offseason. I opined that what Marte cost the Diamondbacks in prospects wasn’t worth it for the Braves, considering GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to swing a team-friendly one-year deal with Marcell Ozuna for nothing more than money ($18 million). My logic is similar when it comes to Bryant.
A trade not worth the trouble
Let’s start with the basics: In the Marte trade, the Pirates were able to acquire two of the Diamondbacks’ top-10 prospects, 50 FV shortstop Liover Peguero (No. 5 on ARZ’s list) and 45+ FV right-handed pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 10), plus $250,000 in international pool money. I’m not necessarily saying the D’Backs overpaid, but that was a significant blow to their farm system. As recent as the end of last season, the organization had just two 50 FV position-players and two 45+ FV pitchers on the farm (and that includes the two players they just traded). Now, given that Bryant has been worth almost 6 WAR (5.7 WAR) more than Marte over the last three seasons (an average of 1.9 per year) and is three years younger, it’s common sense to assume that the Cubs will be looking to get much more in return. There’s no doubt acquiring Bryant in a trade would cost the Braves one of Cristian Pache or Ian Anderson, with at least another top-tier prospect in the mix as well.
Is that type of trade package worth it for two seasons of Bryant?
There are solid arguments for both answers. On the “yes” side you could argue that Bryant is the type of talent that could perhaps put the Braves “over the hump,” providing the team’s lineup with the extra oomph it needs to compete with the Dodgers and Nationals of the National League and the Astros and Yankees of the American League. I agree Bryant would give the Braves a more formidable batting order, especially now that Ozuna’s power-bat is mixed in there too.
Although, those of us on the “no” side look towards the future and see a trade not worth the trouble. Knowing that two years of Bryant will undoubtedly cost the Braves Pache or Anderson (and even more), the sacrifice in prospects just seems rather unnecessary. As our very own Chase Irle relayed last week (after the Ozuna signing), the Braves’ projected win total is at 91.5 right now — the most in the NL East and second-most in the National League, behind the LA Dodgers (98.5). I can see the interest in pushing that win total higher in 2020, but to do so the team must forfeit future wins in prospects that are right on the cusp of making it to the majors.
This all depends on how high you are on the Braves’ top prospects. If you don’t see prospects like Pache, Anderson, or even Drew Waters and Tucker Davidson as impact players for the Braves shortly, then sure, cashing in on a few of those guys right now seems like a wise move. But I look at those players as potential All-Stars for the Braves, guys that, in the near future, will provide the team with elite production at a very affordable price (which is what it’s all about for small and mid-market teams like the Braves!). Granted, it would be quite surprising if ALL of those players turn out to be success stories in the majors, but given that we’re so close to finding out, I’m willing to hold on to them and see it through.
Riley and Camargo deserve a chance
I realize this isn’t Little League; this is MLB we’re talking about. Teams don’t owe players anything. You’re either good enough, or you’re not, and at the end of the day, organizations must do whatever it takes to put the best product on the field. However, when it comes to teams on a budget, assessing all of your options can save money and even have a direct impact on just how great that product truly is.
Austin Riley has played a whopping 80 games at the major league level, and barely at all at third base, with just four starts there thus far. Johan Camargo, the seasoned vet of the duo, has 314 total games under his belt, though only 175 at the hot corner (144 starts). Neither player has had enough of a chance at the position to show the Braves what they can do there. And for a combined $2.255 million (the cost of both players this season), it’s most definitely worth it for the Braves to find out.
As we already know, the Braves cannot afford to make moves like the Yankees and Dodgers. The team is already running the highest payroll it has ever had, at $150 million. It’s difficult for fans to do, but we’ve got to start looking at these types of things in a way that’s more consistent with reality for a team like the Braves — Anthopoulos is not interested in taking on large contracts. So since that’s rather apparent by now, the team might as well see what they have with the two players already in place.