Weighing Possibilities for Kris Bryant’s Eventual Departure

No matter how it happens, whether he signs an extension for life or is traded tomorrow, Kris Bryant‘s Cubs tenure will eventually come to a close. All of the rhetoric from the team seems to indicate something happening sooner than later, especially after Jed Hoyer talked about service time concerns and a lack of additional funds in the budget for 2021 during his first press conference as the team’s president of baseball operations.

“I think in this job you always have one eye on the present and one eye on the future,” Hoyer explained. “I think the truth is, given the service time realities that I mentioned, I think that eye may be a little more focused to the future than usual.

“But that doesn’t take away from the goal. And the goal is always to make the playoffs and give this organization a chance to go deep in October.”

You would think it’d be easier to compete with a former MVP on the field, particularly when that man is in a contract year and is among the best players in the league when healthy. At the same time, Bryant is one of the Cubs’ highest-paid players and might not fit their plans to save money this coming season.

“As far as competing on the field, we have great players and this group has been together for a while,” Hoyer continued. “I know there’s frustration by how things have ended the last few years, but I think at some point you have to look at the bigger picture. We did win the division this year, we are really talented. I think we can do both. But it does probably mean being a little bit opportunistic at certain times.”

Being opportunistic is easier said than done given the corner into which the Cubs have been painted by bad timing and their own mistakes. Several players have failed to develop as expected and nearly every hitter had a career-worst performance in 2020. Add in rising costs with a decreased appetite to spend and it’s going to be hard to find value for many of these guys.

It would be both ironic and sad if the Cubs effectively wasted the extra year of control they gained by manipulating Bryant’s service time back in 2015, but that’s exactly what will happen if he’s non-tendered. Teams are playing a game of chicken with the Cubs right now and likely aren’t offering much in the hopes that Bryant will indeed become a free agent, thus saving them any prospect capital. As unlikely as that seems, Hoyer might be able to justify it as a cost-cutting move.

Rather than face the embarrassment of letting a cornerstone player walk for nothing, the Cubs will almost certainly tender Bryant and then either move him later in the winter or at the deadline. The latter might actually yield just as good a haul if he’s performing well, especially since draft-pick compensation will probably not be part of the equation. As Ken Rosenthal pointed out in his piece on this same topic, the league expressed a willingness to suspend compensation for a year as sort of a pre-negotiation for the next CBA.

Under the existing rules, a team has to employ a player for a full season in order to give him a qualifying offer and then benefit from a compensatory pick if he rejects it to sign elsewhere. The uncertainty there might make teams more willing to wait. Then again, enough competition — reports of interest from Dodgers, Nationals, Red Sox, and Braves have circulated lately — could push a team to act more impulsively.

I still believe that, if forced to choose between several unenviable options, the Cubs would rather tender Bryant and hold onto him until at least the deadline. They’re unlikely to land impact prospects at this point, so a trade this winter isn’t all that different from a non-tender. Having him healthy and performing at a high level means better threading the needle, either by elevating the team to playoff contention or increasing his trade value.

There’s nothing I hate more than laying things out like this, so I’ll just leave off here and present you with the Twitter poll I started Tuesday afternoon. A majority of respondents disagree with me, believing a winter trade is most likely, though more people believe Bryant will leave in free agency than be traded at the deadline.

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