As the Chicago Cubs look toward an upheaval, should the Atlanta Braves trade for Kris Bryant?
Fairly late last offseason, after he lost his service time grievance and that situation was cleared up, Kris Bryant was theoretically available via trade. But the Chicago Cubs kept the band together for what was likely to be one more run, during what became a shortened 2020 season.
Bryant, as was the case with many of his teammates, had a down 2020 campaign (.206/.293/.351 slash-line, four home runs, 11 RBI in 34 games-147 plate appearances). But he did finish on a high note after missing a little time with an oblique injury, with two home runs and six RBI over a two-game stretch on Sept. 26 and 27. Wrist, finger and elbow injuries plagued him early in the 60-game run.
After a down 2018, Bryant rebounded in 2019 (.282, .903 OPS, 31 home runs, 77 RBI). When it boils down to it, he’s not yet 30 (29 on Jan. 4), can play third base or either corner outfield spot at a passable level, and he has a Rookie of the Year (2015) and NL MVP (2016) on his resume.
Bryant is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, though how much of a raise he’ll get over last year’s one-year, $18.6 million deal is unclear. It’s also possible, though very unlikely, that the Cubs non-tender him and set him free.
Should the Atlanta Braves trade for Kris Bryant?
The Atlanta Braves were a rumored suitor for Bryant last offseason, after losing Josh Donaldson in free agency. But talks didn’t seem to get a lot of traction, perhaps due to the service time grievance, and the Braves turned to Austin Riley at third base.
The Braves reached the NLCS for the first time since 2001 this year, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. They are also outside the top-15 in projected payroll for 2021 right now. So they are in a position to make a major move or two.
Riley started his big league career like a house on fire in 2019, with 10 home runs in his first 26 games. But from there he struggled the rest of way (.185, eight home runs in 54 games from June 13-Sept. 29), and in the short sample of 2020 (51 games) he wasn’t a lot better (.239/.301/.415 slash-line, eight home runs and 27 RBI). Over his first 503 major league plate appearances, Riley has a OPS+ of 86 and an 87 wRC+. This is where it’s worth mentioning he won’t turn 24 until April 2.
With moves to sign Donaldson and Marcell Ozuna in recent years, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulus has not been afraid of one-year deals. Trading for Bryant would be of the same ilk. The Braves seem to be on the verge after almost reaching the World Series this year, and they should also be a contender for years to come.
In an eight-game sample at the Braves’ fairly new home, SunTrust Park, Bryant is 9-for-29 (.310) with three doubles. Over larger samples at the parks Atlanta visits within the NL East, here are his career stat lines.
Citi Field: .300/.382/.500 slash-line (.882 OPS), 3 HR, 5 RBI-15 games, 68 PA
Citizen’s Bank Park : .361/.418/.656 slash-line (1.074 OPS), 4 HR, 11 RBI-15 games, 67 PA
Marlins Park: .261/.391/.493 slash-line (.884 OPS), 3 HR, 11 RBI-18 games, 87 PA
Nationals Park: .333/.429/.633 slash-line (1.062 OPS), 3 HR, 9 RBI-17 games, 70 PA
The Braves would balk at including top prospect Christian Pache in a deal for Bryant, and after his showing this year right-hander Ian Anderson is untouchable too. Given the overall climate right now, the Cubs may have to settle for a little less return if they are motivated to trade Bryant.
That said, Riley could be part of any trade package, as well as some lower-rated prospects from the Braves respected farm system.