Kris Bryant Trade Not ‘Fait Accompli’ Even as Budget-Conscious Cubs Enter New Phase

If you’ve been reading CI for more than a day or three, you may know we’ve said from the start that the Cubs should avoid some sort of impulse trade that ships Kris Bryant out just to save money. Ideally, they’d be able to extend him and reap the benefits of a healthy MVP-level player who’s got job security and is no longer fielding questions about his contract or trade rumors.

“I think that’s been treated as a certainty,” Jed Hoyer said of a potential trade while addressing the media after the Winter Meetings. “Listen, Kris is a great player — he’s a superstar player — that obviously didn’t have the year last year that he had hoped. But when you look at our offense, there were several other players that had similar struggles.”

Those offensive struggles came to a head in 2020, but they’ve been evident for at least three seasons now. Part of the solution will obviously involve personnel changes, both on the roster and the coaching staff, part will be the expectation of natural improvement from a more standard season and better continuity from spring training. For Bryant in particular, health is a huge factor. He battled wrist and finger injuries most of the season after dealing with knee and shoulder issues in the two previous campaigns.

Even at a salary of close to $20 million, Bryant performing near his potential would be a very worthwhile investment. The Cubs are currently projected at a 2021 payroll that could be $50 million or more below their 2020 mark, and that’s with KB on the roster. They won’t approach the $210 million competitive balance tax threshold, but Hoyer can still construct a solid roster without doing so. And when you get down to it, keeping Bryant gives them the best chance to thread the needle of remaining competitive while remaining budget-conscious.

“I don’t think it should be treated as a fait accompli that [a trade is] going to happen,” Hoyer said.

Now, it’s entirely possible the new baseball boss is simply playing coy — would that make him Coyer? — in an attempt to chum the market a little bit. There’s also the notion that Bryant’s performance and injuries have depressed his value to the point that the Cubs could probably get as much for him at the deadline should an extension still not be in play. They wouldn’t save much money in that scenario, but if this was simply a matter of slashing expenses by any means necessary, they wouldn’t have tendered him in the first place.

None of this is particularly novel, so it only makes sense to close with a point I’ve made several times before: An extension is not out of the question. It’s unlikely based on the budget situation and the general lack of conversation, but Bryant has never tried to force his way out and isn’t unhappy being in Chicago. Just because there are clearly parts of the business he doesn’t care for does not mean the fun has drained out of his baseball life to the extent that only a change of scenery will revive him.

I find it unlikely that the Cubs will do much before the new year and I’m finding it less and less likely that they do anything involving Bryant at all. At least not before the start of the season.

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