5 Reasons Kris Bryant to the Braves Makes Sense

Joe Patrick
December 16, 2019 - 1:07 pm

By the time you’re reading this, Josh Donaldson may have already signed a lucrative contract with any number of teams vying for his services following Major League Baseball’s 2019 Winter Meetings [UPDATE: As of Monday, Dec. 16 Donaldson is still a free agent.>. The Braves’ 2019 third baseman and cleanup hitter profited more than anyone could have imagined after signing his one-year deal with the NL East champions a year ago. And while the Braves hoped they’d have remained in contention for his services beyond that short-term deal, as the days go by it appears less and less likely.

Enter Kris Bryant, the ideal successor. The former NL MVP is available via trade as the Cubs shed salary and reposition themselves for the future. Here are 5 reasons why a potential Bryant-Braves marriage makes sense.

Bryant is the big bat the Braves are looking for

In the clubhouse, there was a common refrain from Braves starting pitchers last when talking about the run support they received from their lineup. But Dallas Keuchel said it the most clearly after a 5-1 Braves win over the Marlins on August 20.

“This is an American League style of offense,” said Keuchel. “Even without a couple of our big guns, we’re still producing.”

With the presumed loss of Donaldson in the MLB arms race that is free agency, the Braves lineup requires reinforcing to help protect what is expected to be an even younger overall starting pitching staff next year. Marcell Ozuna, who’s been linked to the Braves, [Obi-Wan Kenobi voice> is not the cleanup hitter you’re looking for. Bryant, on the other hand, is almost guaranteed to give the Braves equal or better production that they got from Donaldson last year. This isn’t news to anyone, but it’s worth pointing out very clearly that the difference between acquiring these two players is the difference between the Braves offense remaining among baseball’s best or regressing to the middle of the pack. The latter is an option the Braves can ill-afford to choose.

Recent trends suggest the Braves have already made their free agency splash

The Braves were baseball’s busiest team in the opening month of free agency, and if history is any way to determine the club’s modus operandi, it’d be surprising to see them splash the cash to outbid their opponents this late in the game. Last year, the Braves moved quickly in November to sign Donaldson and catcher Brian McCann, only to then wait months before making further significant additions. It seems that the Braves’ signing strategy is to move quickly to sign free agents, even paying up a little in order to get the business done and secure their targeted assets. Since the team didn’t complete any more deals during the Winter Meetings — and Anthopoulos indicated he doesn’t forsee any more happening imminently — then it’s safe to assume they’ve locked up their free agent targets.

Braves are in a better position to acquire via trade than FA signing

For the better part of a year now, Braves fans have been waiting on Alex Anthopoulos to pull the trigger on a big trade that would see the team move some of the overstocked inventory of starting pitchers in the club’s farm system. Such a deal never materialized last year, perhaps in part due to so many quality players being available as free agents or waiver signings. That means that the Braves are even more poised to do such a deal now.

A trade doesn’t only make sense because of the Braves assets. The Braves have already sent its payroll significantly upward with its free agent signings so far, and a trade seems a more reasonable way to manage the bottom line. With Cristian Pache and Drew Waters continuing to do nothing but impress as they progress through the minors, a player like Ender Inciarte could be used as a chip the Braves could move to alleviate the $19 million or so that Bryant is likely to earn in 2020 and beyond. 

Alex Anthopoulos’ stated timeline lines up with Bryant’s future

In case you missed it, Kris Bryant has filed a grievance with the league, arguing that he should only have one year left until free agency (vs. two years) based on the way the Cubs manipulated his service time during his rookie season. No matter what the result of the arbitrator’s ruling resolves, the determination is reportedly not going to happen for several weeks, if not months. This puts any trade deal on hold because the decision will determine his true market value.

Interestingly, this timeline squares with comments from Alex Anthopoulos when he spoke to reporters on the ground at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

Anthopoulos waited — painfully long for some — until pulling the trigger on Dallas Keuchel’s signing last season. Keuchel had a similar deterrent attached to him in 2019 until the draft pick compensation that would come with his signing expired. If Bryant indeed starts the season in a Cubs uniform while the Braves are starting Johan Camargo at third base and some combination of Acuna-Inciarte-Markakis-Joyce-Duvall in the outfield, it may be disappointing for fans, but it wouldn’t mean the Braves aren’t still trying to get a deal done. 

Bryant’s financials are relatively cheap, low-risk, and fits a pattern

Bryant is under arbitration for at least one more season, meaning that barring injury, the Braves will likely get the on-field production they pay for. And no matter when he hits free agency, the Braves have shown a propensity to structure multiple short-term deals around their bedrock foundations of Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Mike Soroka. Donaldson and McCann both signed short-term contracts last year, as did two of this year’s free agents signings in Cole Hamels and Travis D’Arnaud. Locking in Bryant for at least one or two years before he hits free agency aligns with the Braves strategy. The only question is: What are they willing to give up?