At the start of the 2020/2021 off-season, it appeared that the Toronto Blue Jays were interested in almost every free agent and pretty much every high-profile trade candidate available. While they did not sign every free agent they wanted, they eventually walked away with quite a haul, signing George Springer to a six-year deal while bringing in Marcus Semien, Kirby Yates, Robbie Ray, and Tyler Chatwood in on one-year deals.
On the trading front, they acquired pitcher Steven Matz from the New York Mets for a trio of pitchers highlighted by Sean Reid-Foley. They also traded away Hector Perez for cash considerations or a player to be named later to the Cincinnati Reds, but the Blue Jays really only made the one significant trade.
One player that sparked quite a few fan’s interests was Kris Bryant, the third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. The club was reportedly fielding interest from multiple teams for his services this past winter considering he will be a free agent at the end of the year and will most likely be moving on after a tumultuous seven years with the Cubs organization. He’s already turned down a contract extension back in 2018 and appears set to test free agency after this season.
Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant was all over the trade rumours this past off-season, and while the Blue Jays were interested in the former all-star, the asking price might be too high to acquire his services at the trade deadline.
For his career, Bryant has slashed .283/.381/.515 with 155 home runs, 452 RBI, and a .896 OPS while being one of the top forces on the Cubs roster. He won the World Series with the club back in 2016 while also winning numerous individual accolades such as the Rookie of the Year award, the MVP award, and three all-star appearances. Bryant has spent the majority of his career at third base but does also have experience in left-field and has gotten some looks this season at first base as well.
This move to trade for Bryant made a lot of sense earlier this year, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. appeared to be a lock at first base and the Blue Jays were going to install Cavan Biggio at the hot corner this season, a position he held little experience in throughout his professional career. While Biggio is a talented player, having Bryant at third base would be a significant upgrade to anything the Blue Jays currently have in the system, as any potential internal prospect like Jordan Groshans or Austin Martin is still a year or two away from the big leagues. Santiago Espinal and Joe Panik have done alright in Biggio’s absence, but adding Bryant would still be a significant upgrade over the two.
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Another reason this move made sense was because Bryant had a very rough year in 2020, where he was only able to muster a .206/.293/.351 slash line with four round-trippers and 11 RBI, his worst statistical season to date. The stock took a bit of a dip, especially since many of the organizations around major league baseball were dealing with the financial fallout from the COVID-19 shortened/fanless season.
The time to acquire Kris Bryant was this past winter, as his value was at an all-time low given that he was still owed 19.5 million on his last year of arbitration and he was coming off a rough year. A few different trade packages suggested were for lower-tier prospects mixed with some more established talent like Reese McGuire and SRF (at the time).
That trade package/scenario has now changed, as Bryant has returned to his old roots this season and is currently mashing the ball, crafting a .316/.397/.607 line through 224 plate appearances with 24 walks, 13 home runs, and 38 RBI on his way to a 1.004 OPS. He is currently fourth in the league in OPS, tied for 14th in home runs, and 17th in RBI.
Since Bryant has come out of the gate hot and the Chicago Cubs hold a narrow lead in the NL Central, not only will the price to acquire Bryant be significantly higher than what it would have been earlier this season, the Cubs might not even be willing to trade him at the deadline this year if they are contending. This will most likely be their last shot at a World Series for the next few years with multiple players becoming free agents this off-season and a potential rebuild on the horizon, eerily similar to what the Blue Jays did back in 2016/2017. One last kick at the can if you will.
Any potential deadline deal for Bryant would most likely have the Cubs asking for a top ten prospect in return, with a starting pitcher such as Simeon Woods-Richardson or a top infielder like Jordan Groshans being an ideal candidate, an idea that would be absurd to deal from given he is becoming a free agent at the end of the season.
The scenario obviously changes if Bryant signs a longer-term deal past the 2021 season with the Blue Jays, but giving up a top ten prospect and risk losing Bryant to free agency a few months later is risky business, with it all depending on how much Ross Atkins and co. really want to go for a Championship this season. Personally, I wouldn’t want to trade anyone within the top ten, but the Cubs will most likely ask for something in that area given how well Bryant is performing this season.
If I were a betting man, unless the Cubs go on a torrid losing streak over the next two months, I think the Blue Jays missed the boat on Kris Bryant. It would have been great to see him in a Blue Jays uniform and adding his slash line to an already ridiculous batting order, but the price will most likely be too high at the deadline for technically a rental player, especially since it would take more prospect capital to pry him away from a team that is also contending this season.
While it’s not known at this time if Atkins did present a formal offer to Jed Hoyer for Bryant over the past year, the dynamic has certainly changed over the past few months, one that will most likely see the Blue Jays seek help elsewhere if they’re looking to add at the July trade deadline.