Buster Olney Suggests Cubs Could Trade Kris Bryant This Winter, Which…No

When you throw out a title like “Cubs open to trading 3B Kris Bryant,” it’s going to get all the clicks. And while there is certainly some room to maneuver within the conceptual parameters of Theo Epstein saying nothing is off the table this winter, it sure feels as though Buster Olney grabbed hold of a loose thread and just ran with it until there was nothing left of the sweater but a pile of yarn.

Yes, Bryant had a down year as the result of a nagging shoulder injury and yes, the Cubs have been unable to extend him beyond the contractual control they’re granted via the arbitration process. But just because they have made it known that they’re willing to talk trades for nearly everyone on the roster doesn’t mean Bryant is someone they’re willing to part with.

And that’s where we get to the crux of the difference here between pragmatism and sensationalism. Just because the Cubs aren’t flat-out saying someone is untouchable does not mean they’d actually deal them.

“We’ve never operated with untouchables,” Epstein said when asked about Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. “It sends the wrong message. Given what we’re trying to accomplish, it would be virtually impossible to envision the deal that would make sense to move them. I just don’t believe in untouchables. Why limit yourself?”

Did you catch the part in there about it being “virtually impossible to envision the deal” for either franchise cornerstone? You know, the part that takes all the wind out of Olney’s sails? There is a massive gulf between not telling someone to F off if they ask to talk about a player and then actually being willing to trade that player.

Even with a huge raise, which probably won’t happen because of his muted statistical output in 2018, Bryant is a generational talent who has already captured Rookie of the Year and MVP awards with the Cubs. Oh, then there’s that World Series thing too. And at a salary that figures to be somewhere around $15 million, maybe less, having a healthy Bryant for a season is an absolute steal. Yes, even if the Cubs have gotten all budget-conscious.

In fact, one could argue that the Cubs’ reported frugality is all the more reason to keep Bryant. Trading him might save a little money, but it would drastically reduce the viability of their competitive window at a point when it should be as wide open as ever. There’s no way you get back MLB-ready players who can immediately impact the team’s fortunes as much as Bryant can, which means picking up high-value prospects who don’t cost as much.

But, again, when you’re talking about an elite player who’s making $7 million less than the qualifying offer, a trade just to save money would be the most asinine move possible. Factor in the shoulder, which is fully healthy but untested, and you’re talking reduced value from unknown risk. Even if the resultant haul of talent ends up meeting expectations, the savings from one escalating contract would be completely mitigated by the cost of several others.

And the idea that David Bote could serve as a long-term replacement for Bryant is just…I mean…I can’t. Bote was awesome for the Cubs last year and he authored one of the greatest regular-season moments in recent memory, but it’s impossible to overlook the drop-off that occurred once MLB pitchers got the book on him.

Then to compare the possibility of trading a 26-year-old Bryant to the reality of Epstein’s trades of Nomar Garciaparra (30) and Manny Ramirez (36) is downright irresponsible. I’m just going to leave off now because continuing to lambaste this concept might have me tossing my computer across the room.

***Update***

Rizzo and Epstein took turns shooting down Olney’s laughable report Friday evening, which was nice to see.

“I answered a general question about whether we have untouchables,” Epstein said. “Like most every organization, we will listen to anything, but that’s just an operating philosophy.

“We are lucky to have some impact players and we are looking to add to them, not subtract.”

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27 Comments

  1. I saw that on ESPN. Slow news day apparently. The story did say whether or not Buster sprained an ankle or tweaked a knew landing on that wild leap from Theo’s quote to his conclusion.

  2. I’m a little ashamed of Buster for stooping to this level of sensationalism. I know he’s got to write something on a slow day, but at least go make up a rumor that’s believable….like Rick Sutcliffe becoming the Cubs new pitching coach. OK, that’s preposterous too.

    1. Yeah, it was definitely taking things too far. That might not be the case in a year or two, but coming off of a down year and with his shoulder still untested, what on earth would make the Cubs want to close their window. And if they’re in money-conscious mode but still believe they have the talent to win, trading Bryant would crater the whole concept. Him returning to previous form automatically changes them; think if you have him at 2016-17 health last season. And they were at 95 wins without that.

      1. I’ve been saying this for months now. I’d even trade him for Eloy. Even Luis Robert. I’m so down on him. He has so many holes in his strike zone. Can’t handle any pitches. He doesn’t even hit the ball hard ever….not even on his line drive singles. Weak contact continuously when he does hit it. Glorified singles hitter. Looks way too weak up there too. So skinny. He really needs to hit the weight room. Seems like he uses a toothpick for a bat too. Agree with those who said he is overrated and not clutch. Kind of like Matt Nokes. Anyway, I can’t stand his approach and swing. I like the concept but geez, he can’t even handle a ball that is just slightly elevated.

        1. Buddy, next time you have a take like this…don’t. This is just brutally, brutally awful and completely ignores everything he’s done in favor of a couple weeks. Just no, man.

          1. Completely disagree. It’s been like a year and a half. Dude blows. He certainly maybe can turn it around but he has been trending like this for too long. His RBI production is bad too. More like pathetic. 73 two years ago. 52 RBI last year. Only 8 this year so far. You can try to act like you’re smarter at sports than me, but I highly doubt it. Bryant should be traded.

  3. I hope Buster put that at Theo’s request as other GM think that way and its not make a big deal out of.

    With negative story after negative story. This has to be some form of a smokescreen or at least them thinking it will motivate the players some how. If not the Cubs have some major issues going on other than players not buying in on the hitting and pitching coaches.

      1. Buster has been in the game long enough to know better than to run a story like that based off a quote every GM gives.

        I feel Theo wanted him to make a bigger deal out of it.. Don’t know if its part of a smokescreen on Boras and other teams or just a way of trying to motivate the team. Maybe I’m giving Buster too much credit and being naive not wanting to buy into no money, but everything this winter feels off to me.

        1. But this isn’t some one-off interview, it’s part of what Epstein was saying in general. So it’s not as though it’s a one-man story. And you don’t have to worry about giving Buster credit for anything on the money front. I’ve gotten the same information from people and I was putting it out there before ESPN; The Athletic has reported it as well.

          1. You don’t believe that both agents and management use the media to push the narrative they want out?

          2. I never said anything of the sort, it’s obvious that is the case. But there’s no way Epstein was baiting the hook for someone to run off with something like this. It serves no purpose.

  4. Is Bryant really elite though? IMO, he’s our most over-rated player. If they find a trade that makes sense, I won’t cry. He’s gone in a few years (he won’t re-sign) anyway.

    He’s replaceable defensively, and he’s not clutch offensively. I don’t believe the shoulder injury is the main/sole cause of his loss of power.

    I just don’t think there’s a trade out there that makes much sense unless a team like the Mariners or Mets is willing to take Heyward and Chatwood and their full salaries while sending Paxton or DeGrom/Thor respectively.

    1. Is a former ROY and MVP elite? I’m not sure how to handle this. As for the shoulder, it was pretty clearly the cause of the power outage. The numbers from before and after don’t lie. This is quite a take, man.

      1. Yeah, I feel like this board has lost it’s collective sanity. Bryant IS an elite talent with one drop off year but a track record of producing elitely. Is he Trout? No, no one is. Is he Harper? I would argue that he’s close. He’s never produced a 10 WAR season but even Harper’s only done that once. That said, I can see a world where, you sign Harper, take the luxury tax hit for one year, have Bryant come back to his usual self, maximizing his trade value, then trade him for a big haul.

        1. Since 2014, Bryant’s combined 23.1 fWAR ranks 13th in MLB. And he didn’t even play in 2014, then had a down year in 2018. So to be that high to me spells E-L-I-T-E.

        2. Agree on the loss of sanity. Not that it needs it, but to add to Evan’s commentary – Bryant is not only darn good at 3b, but can also competently play OF and 1b. I’ve never seen him draw SS or 2b, but wouldn’t bet against him there either.

          Speaking of not betting against him, when he was drafted – there were scouts who said he would never stick at 3b. So much for that. Bryant is a pure baseball talent.

      2. I don’t know, are they? Is Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard or Jose Canseco elite? I wouldn’t consider them elite. They may have had one or even a few “elite” level seasons, but that doesn’t make them elite. And all three have fit the above criteria.

        Bryant started hitting less homeruns in 2017. His hitting approach has gotten progressively worse since his first season and a half. When he came up, he was hitting to all fields and hitting with power. And…he has consistently been UNclutch.

    2. I’m in between you and Evan, (how do we all agree on definition of elite?), I think he’s a borderline AS, but not in the category as Betts, Trout, Ramirez, or Arenado. When healthy, He’s still our first or second most valuable player. From a fan’s perspective, I’m ok to trade him, but unless it’s a silly overpay offer I don’t like the timing. He’s not the guy I trade for prospects while in win now mode.

      1. I’m with you though. I definitely don’t agree with trading him for prospects. It has to be a blockbuster deal. Likely one involving Russell and one of the other OFs.

        If you’re not talking about Mets pitching, Mariners (Paxton, Diaz, Gordon/Cano), Angels (Trout; not happening), etc, I don’t see a deal. But even those types of deals have extra moving parts (likely having to find a taker for Chatwood and Monty).

  5. Actually trading Bryant may not be a bad thing……….Cubs sign Harper and trade Bryant any time before the 2020 season. Since Boras clients rarely (or maybe even never) resign with their old club at free agency, the Cubs will lose Bryant either way. May as well get a boat load for him while he still has value.

    1. A trade at some point is entirely possible, but this year when his value is lower than it’s ever been and the Cubs’ window is wide open would be a huge mistake. And if they do sign Harper, it’ll be largely because of the personal aspects of the deal, which is something the Cubs understand and would try to maintain. Boras clients can and have stuck around, sometimes with extensions, but he’s definitely all about getting the most possible.

      1. Agreed. Even though Bryant’s stock is low (relatively speaking), a KB trade (not a bad idea w/ Boras running the show) seems a year or two away,

  6. And……….get the feeling that Theo is trying to create the “atmosphere” that the whole team is on one year contracts……..perform or go, as he has stated previously.

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