If the Cubs come calling, should the Atlanta Braves even listen?

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park September 10, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park September 10, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

The report is out there and it’s been persistent:  the Cubs are trying to make changes.  But are there any that the Atlanta Braves should actually be interested in?

Let’s start with the obvious:  the Atlanta Braves have already made great headway toward rebuilding their roster this off-season… but there’s clearly unfinished business to take care of.

Sometimes that business can be facilitated from surprising sources.  Sometimes those sources… should be ignored.

Seldom do we hear of a club so blatantly shopping players around and yet that’s exactly happening with the Chicago Cubs right now.

Early last week, Jeff Passan’s report on ESPN.com discussed those Cubs and their off-season obsession with change.  As he wrote:

"The Chicago Cubs have been, according to various executives, “aggressive,” “manic,” “motivated” and “obvious” in their desire to trade someone. Or someones. The Cubs are going to make a move. They’re just not sure what yet."

Okay… that’s one report, and while it seems consistent with some other chatter we’ve heard out of the Windy City since Joe Maddon‘s term ended there, it’s still just one report.

Now we have a second report, along with some details about just why Chicago wants to trade ‘someones’:

"In any case, a big move or two seems inevitable. The Cubs were one of three teams to exceed the $206 million luxury tax threshold last season and already are $6 million above the $208 million threshold for 2020 … Club officials are telling representatives of even low-budget free agents that they need to clear money before engaging in serious negotiations."

This was from Kenny Rosenthal in TheAthletic (paywall link).  Between he and Passan, I expect these stories are pretty solid:  the Cubs want to dump payroll so that they can even consider filling their holes via free agents.

How Dire is Their Situation?

If $6 million stands between them and the ‘zero budget line’ — the point at which they would not be over the luxury tax threshold, then the answer is “pretty dire” since they apparently need to clear that $6 million plus dump another ~$20 million so that they could look at a couple of free agents.

In baseball calendar terms, it’s really already getting late for them, too.  You’d think desperation might be setting in.

Who are we talking about here?  According to the COTS spreadsheet, Chicago has eight players who will be hitting the luxury tax for amounts above $12 million this year.

Here they are… along with reasons they won’t be moved:

  • LHP Jon Lester ($25.8m)
    • most expensive pitcher; full no-trade contract; showed decline in 2019
  • RF/OF Jason Heyward ($23m)
    • still due $86m over next 4 seasons
  • RHP Yu Darvish ($21m)
    • still due $81m over next 4 seasons; injury risk
  • Kris Bryant (expected arbitration salary around $18.5m)
    • depends solely on this lingering grievance
  • RHP Tyler Chatwood ($12.67m)
    • injury risk
  • LHP Jose Quintana ($10.5m)
    • Possible; hasn’t been that good since joining Cubs
  • RHP/Closer Craig Kimbrel ($14.3m)
    • Limited no-trade clause, expensive, needs to re-prove himself
  • RHP Kyle Hendricks ($13.88m)
    • Might have to try; but he’s one of the better starters they have

There’s also a sizeable handful of players in the $1-10m range, but to clear ~$25 million in payroll, they’d have to gut their roster to trade them away – and then they’d have to be replaced on the field.

Here’s that secondary list… minus Anthony Rizzo, who’s cheap and going nowhere:

  • IF Javy Baez (arb estimate $9.3m)
    • their best player – not going anywhere
  • LF/DH Kyle Schwarber (arb estimate $8m)
    • AL-only.  Not a lot of AL need, though
  • C Willson Contreras (arb estimate $4.5m)
    • could be moved
  • CF Albert Almora (arb est. $1.8m)
    • The reason they could use Inciarte
  • LHP Kyle Ryan (arb est. $1.1m)
    • reliever; hardly dents the payroll problem
  • UTIL/INF Daniel Descalso ($2.5m – contracted)
    • That contract is cheap… but still not a good one for the Cubs

So if you’re wondering why Kris Bryant’s name is getting so much play this Fall, it’s simply because he’s head-and-shoulders above the rest of this group in terms of production, bang-for-the-buck, and limited risk exposure

He has 2 years of control available… except that could be only 1 year, and there’s the reason he’s still a Cub now:  a lack of complete certainty about whether that 2nd control year will stick, thanks to that grievance about his initial call-up.

As for the rest, they are players the Cubs either can’t trade for production and costs reasons (Heyward), contract reasons (Lester), or because they they might actually be needed and can’t be replaced in a cost-effective manner (the pitchers).

Even Bryant, though, won’t really generate enough payroll space to be sufficient to deal alone.  Contreras would help since Victor Caratini is behind him – and still cheap.  Multiple others might need to be dealt as well, despite the roster.

So with that as the backdrop… who else (other than Bryant) could the Braves think about taking in a deal with the Cubs? Did you see anyone you’d really want on the Atlanta roster (now that the catching position is filled)?

If you follow ideas like Fred espoused on Sunday, there’s reason to think that the Braves would be better off going in a different direction like that for third base anyway.  Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar might be another such target.

So the Cubs have a real problem and they will have to get quite creative to figure out a solution.

Next. Let's talk about this in detail. dark

But having Chicago use the Atlanta Braves to fix that problem for them while also giving up top talent in return?  No thanks.