Imagine acquiring a player who in his first two years in the league won Rookie of the Year and MVP and played a central part in winning a World Series. Now, imagine that player is still in the prime years of his career at only 29 years old.
In his first few years in Major League Baseball, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant did nothing but live up to the expectations placed upon him. After he won the National League MVP in 2016, many thought it was only a glimpse into the bright future for the Cubs’ star. Yet now Bryant is coming off a season in which he only had a .215 batting average. In his last three seasons, Bryant hasn’t mustered a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over four. He has regressed a little each year ever since taking the league by storm. Simply put, a trade for Bryant is not the right move at this time for the Nationals, a team far from the one that hoisted the World Series trophy back in 2019, due to the cost it will take to get him.
The Washington Nationals are still looking for a replacement at third base after their own star, Anthony Rendon, left via free agency one year ago to join Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Angels. It doesn’t help that the Cardinals pulled highly touted third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies, taking a possible trade target off the market.
Although the Nationals have a top infield prospect in Carter Kieboom, he has struggled taking advantage of his given opportunities. Kieboom is still only 23 years old, making it too early to give up on someone of his youth who thrived throughout his minor league career. On a team with a depleted minor league system (ranked last among all 30 teams according to MLB.com) and not much payroll flexibility, it would be much better for the Nats if a young, cheap prospect like Kieboom could prove himself at third base.
Historically, the Nationals had one of the strongest farm systems across the league. Led by future stars like Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, the Nats just kept producing talent from within. After believing they were just one or two key pieces away from a championship, they traded away a lot of their future stars like Lucas Giolito (now with the White Sox) for Adam Eaton and Jesus Luzardo (now with the Oakland Athletics) for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. A ballclub still makes those trades knowing it got the franchise to the top of the mountain, but now you have to pay the price.
The Nationals now have one of the—if not the—worst farm system in baseball and trading for a player of Bryant’s caliber will only dig an organization in the Nationals’ situation into a deeper long-term hole. The Nats need to be building up their farm system, not continuing to tear it down.
As Kris Bryant enters his final year of arbitration (where a player’s salary is decided before they reach the free agent market), he is set to make $19.5 million. The Washington Nationals have around $15 million in cap space—after the acquisition of first baseman Josh Bell, pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Kyle Schwarber, among others—before they reach the luxury tax threshold.
Bryant’s salary would bring the team over the threshold requiring the team to pay an extra fee—which is assuming the Nats ownership will let General Manager Mike Rizzo spend all that money, considering how much the ownership just lost from last season’s revenue due to COVID-19 and no fans.
Bryant only has one year left on his contract. The Nats are coming off a season in which they finished 26-34 and tied for last in the NL East. The Braves have a terrific young core with talent still flowing in their organization that has yet to reach the big leagues. The Braves took the Dodgers to the brink of elimination without two of their best pitchers in Cole Hamels and Mike Soroka. Due to new Mets’ owner Steve Cohen, the Mets are filled with cash as they will be one of the few teams to show everyone the money.
The Nats are probably the third best team in their division at best, with the Phillies and Marlins not too far behind. Trading for a possible one-year rental in Bryant just doesn’t make sense. The Nats should take the 2021 offseason to retool. It can be enticing to dream of a former MVP in a Nats uniform, but at this point in time, a costly trade for Kris Bryant simply doesn’t make sense.
Alex Rubinson ’22