Kris Bryant’s service-time grievance could enhance the likelihood that he ends up with the Washington Nationals
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Kris Bryant has lost his service-time grievance, meaning that he will not become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
Bryant has been the topic of trade talks throughout the offseason due to the lack of inventory at the third base position. With the loss of Anthony Rendon, the Nationals have been linked to the 2016 MVP, Bryant. However, conversations have stalled over the Cubs desired inclusion of Nationals center fielder Victor Robles.
Robles is under team control and cannot become a free agent until the 2025 offseason. His contract, youth and upside make it extremely unlikely for the Nationals to include him in a deal, even if it is for a player of Bryant’s caliber (editorial: please do not include Robles!).
This doesn’t mean that the Nationals can’t make a move for Bryant. The Nationals have solid depth in the outfield, and the contract of Adam Eaton could make him a valuable trade commodity.
Eaton is scheduled to make $9.5 million, or roughly $9.1 million less than Kris Bryant. Eaton’s contract is also team friendly, as it includes a team option for the 2021 season. This means Eaton could play out the year in Chicago and the Cubs could release ties with him after the season.
According to Spotrac, the Cubs 2020 payroll is projected to be over the $208 tax threshold by more than $4 million. Last year, the Cubs were one of three teams to exceed the luxury tax. If they exceed the tax again this season, the penalty will increase to 30% on all overages. If they are serious about getting under the tax threshold this season, a trade revolving around Eaton and Bryant could make some sense.
Meanwhile, Spotrac projects, that the Nationals still hold roughly $13 million in tax space for the 2020 season. If they swap Eaton for Bryant, they would still remain under the tax threshold heading into the season, with some (although little) wiggle room.
Bryant is clearly the better player, but Eaton is no slouch. He had a 1.6 WAR in 2019, compared to Bryant’s 3.6. He would help to keep the Cubs remain competitive while providing financial relief. Eaton’s ability to get on base will be rewarded with guys like Rizzo, Heyward and Baez hitting around him. Meanwhile, Ian Happ could be moved back into the infield, where he has played nearly 100 Major League games at second and third base.
The grievance decision increases Bryant’s value to the Washington Nationals. Pairing Eaton with a prospect not named Carter Kieboom seems realistic, as Bryant would be under team control for two seasons. While the Nationals system is not loaded with prospects, players like Mason Denaburg, Jackson Rutledge, and top 100 prospect Luis Garcia could be enticing enough to make a deal feasible for both sides.
The Nationals have made numerous acquisitions this offseason, but there is still a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup after Anthony Rendon’s departure. The addition of Bryant would help to fill the offensive hole, while also providing additional flexibility.
Bryant won’t be winning a gold glove anytime soon, but he does have experience in the outfield in addition to his primary position of third base. The flexibility could allow the Nationals to start Kieboom in the minor leagues before calling him him up mid year, depending on progress. If that promotion happens, Kieboom could get at-bats at second and third base, while Bryant shifts to right field.
On its face a Kris Bryant for Adam Eaton trade may not seem logical, but the financial implications and the ability for both teams to remain competitive could make it a reality. Mike Rizzo will certainly have to add additional pieces to make the Cubs bite, but the Nationals may just have enough to make it happen.