MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz on Kris Bryant, Gary Sanchez and More
Theo Epstein is entering the final season of his contract as president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, and he also faces consequential decisions regarding the team's future.
Epstein and the Cubs ended the longest drought in professional sports when they won the World Series in 2016, and they also made their third consecutive National League Championship Series just one year later.
But the North Siders have fallen far short of becoming baseball's next potential dynasty.
The Cubs collapsed in September and lost their grip on the division before losing in the NL Wild Card Game in 2018. Chicago then missed the playoffs in 2019 after another disappointing final month, and the Cubs were swept by the Miami Marlins in the wild-card round during this year's playoffs.
Now, the roster faces a reckoning. Epstein suggested drastic change might be needed in his postseason press conference, per Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. The change might start with third baseman Kris Bryant, who will be a free agent at the conclusion of next season.
Here are some of the latest trade rumors on Bryant and the Cubs, in addition to the New York Yankees' plans for catcher Gary Sanchez.
Rival Teams Monitoring Kris Bryant's Status
Bryant came to the big leagues with significant hype.
The Cubs selected Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 MLB June Amateur Draft. He quickly rose through Chicago's system before reaching the bigs in 2015.
Bryant then proceeded to win the NL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Awards in consecutive seasons, seemingly validating the hype. He had another excellent campaign in 2017, and recovered from an injury-riddled 2018 by clubbing 31 homers and posting a .903 OPS in 2019.
But Bryant had a woeful campaign in 2020. The 28-year-old slashed .206/.293/.351 with just four homers, and once again dealt with injuries. Moreover, Bryant ranked below the 20th percentile in both average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, per Baseball Savant.
Now, in a walk year, Bryant could be on the move. Whether rival teams are willing to part with significant assets to acquire a player coming off a career-worst year remains to be seen.
Buster Olney of ESPN reported evaluators are "closely monitoring" Bryant's situation this offseason. There is some skepticism the Cubs can move the Las Vegas native given he is projected to make close to $18 million in arbitration, according to Olney.
This could present problems for the Cubs. Just one year ago, Bryant might have been the team's most valuable asset. But his value seems to have soured, in part because he will cost a hefty sum in an offseason full of financial challenges.
There might also be concerns with respect to Bryant's durability. He has dealt with injuries in each of the last three years, and the physical setbacks have seemingly had an impact on his performance.
The Cubs could always keep Bryant and attempt to flip him at the deadline, though they would likely fetch even less value for a half-season of the star third baseman.
In any case, opposing teams appear intrigued to see whether Chicago will trade Bryant, and if they can get a suitable return.
Yankees Hoping to 'Fix' Gary Sanchez, Not Trade Him
The New York Yankees are another club that has struggled to live up to expectations.
General manager Brian Cashman hoped he had found the missing piece to the championship puzzle when the Bronx Bombers signed Gerrit Cole last offseason. But the Yankees suffered another heartbreaking playoff defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays.
One of the most notable storylines of New York's season was the struggle of backstop Gary Sanchez.
The 27-year-old bounced back from a poor 2018 by slugging 31 homers and posting an .841 OPS in 2019. But Sanchez regressed again in 2020, slashing .147/.253/.365 while also striking out in close to 36 percent of his plate appearances and ranking in the 11th percentile in whiff rate, per Baseball Savant.
Moreover, Sanchez eventually lost his starting spot in the playoffs, when he was replaced by Kyle Higashioka. The move prompted questions about Sanchez's future in the Big Apple, especially after Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported the Yankees listened to offers for the star catcher prior to the August trade deadline.
However, the Yankees do not appear overly motivated to move Sanchez this offseason.
Olney reported New York is hoping to "fix" Sanchez going forward. Some evaluators told Olney they felt Sanchez had lost confidence, while more still opined his struggles behind the plate were seeping into his at-bats.
There are reasons to be optimistic about Sanchez's potential. He has already shown the ability to recover from a down year and, in spite of a poor 2020 campaign, still ranked above the 90th percentile in both hard-hit and barrel rates, per Baseball Savant.
It is possible the Bronx Bombers could listen to offers for Sanchez (under team control through 2022) and possibly make a play for free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto.
That said, the Yankees have more pressing needs in the starting rotation and also seem comfortable to move forward with Sanchez as the starting catcher.
Cubs Open to Dealing Almost Everyone
Bryant is hardly the only Cubs player thought to be on the block this offseason.
Olney reported Chicago is expressing a "willingness" to move just about anyone on the roster, including star shortstop Javier Baez.
This is a fairly significant development. Baez said in May he and the Cubs were hoping to come to terms on a long-term extension, per ESPN's Marly Rivera. But MLB's hiatus amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic prohibited a deal from being signed, and the charismatic Baez subsequently struggled in 2020.
The 27-year-old was still a premium defender, capturing the first Gold Glove of his career. But Baez had a disappointing .599 OPS and ranked dead-last among qualified hitters in OBP, per FanGraphs.
Baez is also approaching free agency. He will hit the open market in 2022, and the Cubs could be motivated to move him while he still has an extra year of team control.
Even if Chicago elects to retain Baez, all options appear to be on the table for the Cubs. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported All-Star catcher Willson Contreras was thought to be available last winter, and Contreras might have the highest value given he is under team control through 2022 and is coming off another solid season (.763 OPS) in 2020.
Epstein and the Cubs have suggested change was afoot in previous years, so nothing is guaranteed. But Chicago appears motivated to shake things up this winter.
All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.