There’s nothing much to see here, but I want to use the titular rumor to springboard into the recent discussion about Kris Bryant. First, let’s talk about the latest on Willson Contreras, which is that the Angels may still be interested in acquiring his services.
According to Fansided’s Robert Murray, Anaheim has “explored additional upgrades at catcher” and has continued to monitor both Contreras and Boston’s Christian Vázquez. Joe Maddon‘s club has incumbent backstop Max Stassi and signed Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal already this offseason, but Stassi is recovering from hip labrum surgery and isn’t much of a difference-maker even when healthy.
Either Vázquez or Contreras would be a big upgrade, but both undoubtedly have very high asking prices and Murray says the Angels view adding either as “a luxury and not a necessity.” There could certainly be a little gamesmanship at play here as well since stuff like this is typically leaked for a reason. The same could be true for the Cubs, who’ve recently taken small steps to stunt the narrative around their offseason fire sale.
Not that Joc Pederson is some sort of savior, mind you, but he did just land the second-biggest contract the Cubs have given to a position player in the last five years (Jon Jay, $9 million in 2017). Then there’s the nugget about Tom Ricketts increasing the baseball budget, though we obviously don’t know by how much or where that number was in the first place.
Contreras would not have been a part of a payroll crunch, what with his incredibly reasonable $6.65 million salary and two years of club control. Rather, he’s easily the most valuable player on the roster when it comes to getting a monster trade return. Add in his age (29 in May) and the projected ascension of Miguel Amaya and you can see why the Cubs might want to move Contreras while his value is highest rather than trying to work out a big extension.
But, and here’s where we tie back to the Bryant stuff, it does appear as though the Cubs are sticking to their guns when it comes to demanding big offers. If this was simply a matter of conducting a controlled burn of the roster in order to promote future growth, Bryant would probably already be gone. He’s earning $19.5 million and is in his final year of control, factors that are at extreme odds with what the Cubs seem to be doing otherwise.
So while I initially found the report about Hoyer reaching out to the former MVP to tell him he wouldn’t be moved for anything short of a “sweetheart-type offer,” I’ve since come around on it. Sure, part of that might be that a market hasn’t emerged. However, we’ve heard reports about multiple teams talking to the Cubs about Bryant and have also heard that the asking price is too high for those talks to continue.
The Blue Jays, who have perhaps been the most active in those rumors and who seemed like a good fit, ended up signing Marcus Semien to a one-year, $18 million deal. Though it’s not as simple as an A or B decision, the Jays likely saw more value in that move than spending $1.5 million more and also parting with prospects for Bryant. As you may recall, the Cubs reportedly aren’t willing to pay down a chunk of that salary to facilitate a deal.
We also know that Bryant has been hounded by trade rumors since at least the winter of 2018 and hasn’t gotten much in the way of assurances from the Cubs in that time. Whether it’s a gesture of good faith or just the knowledge that no one’s going to be at their best with uncertainty hanging over their head like the sword of Damocles, Hoyer should be taking steps to set a superstar player at ease.
I’m not saying trades won’t happen either before spring training or by the deadline, only that it no longer appears as though slashing payroll is Hoyer’s prime directive. The pitching situation is still very much in flux and the division got a lot tougher to win when the Cardinals agreed to acquire Nolan Arenado, but keeping Bryant and Contreras — or at least choosing not to give them away — would be a clear sign that the Cubs do indeed want to contend.
And if all goes well, having even that tiny nudge of security with a chip on his shoulder for myriad reasons might give Bryant just what he needs to make a few people eat their words. As for Contreras, we may have to wait and see what happens with Amaya this season to know whether the Cubs will still be motivated to make behind the plate while bulking up the system.