Epstein addresses Bryant trade rumors

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein downplayed a Friday report that the club will listen to trade offers for star third baseman Kris Bryant, but he stopped short of dismissing the idea entirely.

Reports surfaced Friday that “almost all” players on Chicago’s roster could be moved, including Bryant, given the Cubs’ diminished payroll flexibility this winter. The rumors surfaced from Epstein’s comments Wednesday at MLB’s General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., that he and his colleagues have “never operated with untouchables,” leading to speculation that even a player of Bryant’s caliber could be moved under the right circumstances. Epstein did add, however, that some players are “so important to us on the field and in the clubhouse, it would be going backwards” to deal them away. 

Epstein clarified those comments Friday to the Chicago Tribune. 

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein downplayed a Friday report that the club will listen to trade offers for star third baseman Kris Bryant, but he stopped short of dismissing the idea entirely.

Reports surfaced Friday that “almost all” players on Chicago’s roster could be moved, including Bryant, given the Cubs’ diminished payroll flexibility this winter. The rumors surfaced from Epstein’s comments Wednesday at MLB’s General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., that he and his colleagues have “never operated with untouchables,” leading to speculation that even a player of Bryant’s caliber could be moved under the right circumstances. Epstein did add, however, that some players are “so important to us on the field and in the clubhouse, it would be going backwards” to deal them away. 

Epstein clarified those comments Friday to the Chicago Tribune. 

“I answered a general question about whether we have untouchables,” Epstein said. “Like most every organization, we will listen to anything, but that’s just an operating philosophy. We are lucky to have some impact players and we are looking to add to them, not subtract.”

Bryant, will be a free agent after the 2021 season and signed a one-year, $10.85 million deal — the most ever for a player eligible for arbitration for the first time — last winter. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Bryant could receive somewhere around $12 million in his second go-around with arbitration in the coming weeks.

Bryant remained a valuable hitter in 2018, but shoulder ailments kept the star third baseman from reaching his previous heights. He compiled a .272/.374/.460 slash line with 13 homers and 52 RBIs over 102 games, and saw much of his power sapped after returning from the disabled list in September. The Cubs have not gotten far in previous attempts to sign Bryant to a long-term extension, with their most recent reported attempt coming last winter for a deal in the neighborhood of $200 million.

One reason the Cubs could be inclined to trade Bryant is payroll flexibility. After picking up Cole Hamels’ option for 2019, Chicago now has four players (Hamels, Jon Lester, Jason Heyward and Yu Darvish) who will make at least $20 million next season, and they project to have one of the higher payrolls in the game. The club opted to retain Hamels partly as insurance for the possibility that Darvish struggles with injuries and inconsistency again like he did in 2018. In seeking to keep pace with the Brewers and Cardinals in the NL Central — in addition to league powers outside the division — Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer might need to get creative over the next several months.

Epstein and Hoyer have a track record of bold moves, most notably a trade in the summer of 2016 when they acquired Aroldis Chapman — who was just three months away from free agency — from the Yankees for a package that included elite prospect Gleyber Torres. The Cubs would obviously need to hear an incredible offer to move a player like Bryant, but are doing their due diligence all the same to improve the team in whatever ways possible. The fact that the Cubs have Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist — two extremely versatile players — makes it easier for them to be creative.

Trading Bryant could yield young, controllable talent and enable Epstein and Hoyer to make more moves to enhance the overall roster. The thought of Bryant in any uniform other than that of the Cubs before the end of 2021 remains jarring, however, and it would likely take one of the largest offers in recent memory for a team to pry the talented third baseman away from Chicago.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

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