Kris Bryant enters May with a sore foot (from kicking ass) and a full address book (from taking names). After a rocky pandemic-shortened 2020 season in which Bryant hit just .206 with four home runs, the 29-year-old third baseman currently leads the NL in slugging percentage (.708) and all of baseball in doubles. This effort has not, unfortunately, been enough to float the Cubs higher than tied for third place in the NL Central, and the team may soon have to make some uncomfortable decisions.
It’s obviously a little early to write the Cubs off, particularly with the NL standings more shook up than a lovestruck Elvis Presley. But we’re only a couple of months away from a scenario in which the Cubs are forced to choose whether to trade the remaining three members of their championship infield—Bryant, Javier Báez, and Anthony Rizzo—or watch them walk as free agents in the offseason.
So while it might be premature to discuss Bryant’s potential landing spots, it’s also a fun thought exercise. Not only because Bryant is an absolute superstar who could swing a pennant race on his own, but because of the irony that this season is the result of the Cubs keeping Bryant in the minors an extra two weeks at the start of the 2015 season and alienating him in the process.
The last time a player of Bryant’s caliber got moved at the trade deadline was 2018, when the Orioles shipped Manny Machado to the Dodgers for a five-player package centered on minor league outfielder Yusniel Díaz. And Bryant’s trade market could be even more interesting, both because so many teams currently have realistic playoff expectations, and because Bryant’s positional flexibility—he regularly plays third base and outfield, and his bat makes him an option at first base and DH—makes him a fit for more than half the league. Even teams like the Yankees or Blue Jays, who are set at the four corners, could still upgrade. Try saying, “We don’t need Kris Bryant because we already have Gio Urshela” without making a weird face.
Plus, given how little it’s taken to trade for the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Francisco Lindor in the years since Machado went west, it’s likely that any sufficiently motivated playoff contender has enough prospects to land the blue-eyed slugger.
So let’s examine Bryant’s potential landing spots not in order of pure fit, or likelihood, but of entertainment value. Which destinations could alter a team’s competitive trajectory, create an interesting competitive dynamic, or just be outrageously funny? Here are my top 10.
10. Atlanta Braves
The Braves are set at three of the four corner positions, with the reigning MVP (Freddie Freeman) at first base, another top-10 MVP candidate (Marcell Ozuna) in left, and the team’s best player (Ronald Acuña Jr.) in right. The lone question mark is third baseman Austin Riley, a 24-year-old with big raw power who is, to put it mildly, stretched defensively at the position.
Riley is making enough contact this year that his prodigious power outweighs his shortcomings, though his 145 wRC+ is buoyed by an unsustainable .431 BABIP. It’d be perfectly reasonable for Atlanta to let it ride with Riley a little longer. But he’d also make an interesting trade chip to pry Bryant out of Chicago—the Amed Rosario to Bryant’s Lindor, if you will.
In recent years, Atlanta has been very aggressive and very successful in signing free-agent position players to one-year deals and sticking them in the middle of the lineup: Ozuna, Josh Donaldson, Travis d’Arnaud. If they’re willing to apply the same principle to Bryant, a would-be trade rental, he’d make a great fit.
9. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels’ policy in the past decade has been to cram as many big-name hitters as possible into one lineup and see what happens. Albert Pujols arrived ahead of the 2012 season, whereupon he was quickly joined by the young Mike Trout, then Josh Hamilton, then Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Shohei Ohtani, and Anthony Rendon. Has it worked? Not in the slightest. But I admire the directness of such a team-building approach and would enjoy seeing it carried out to an even more extreme level.
You have to really work to fit Bryant into the Angels’ lineup. After signing Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million deal in 2019, they’re set at third base until the rapture. Trout and Ohtani aren’t going anywhere, and the team’s faith in Jared Walsh has been repaid in spades, as he’s hit .348/.425/.609 this season while playing a combination of first base and right field. Reviving the Rendon-to–second base experiment from his early Nationals career—if Rendon’s even capable of playing there anymore—would involve moving David Fletcher to short and benching José Iglesias. Probably more trouble than it’s worth.
Which means to incorporate Bryant into the lineup, the Angels would have to bench either Upton or Pujols. Upton has a 102 wRC+ this year, which isn’t that good for a left fielder, and he’s been basically replacement-level since 2019. Pujols has been even worse than replacement level, but even now he’s started 22 out of the Angels’ 28 games. Maybe Bryant’s arrival, in the final year of Pujols’s contract, could finally get the aging legend out of the everyday lineup and push Trout and Ohtani into the playoffs for once.
8. Oakland A’s
7. Tampa Bay Rays
This won’t happen. These teams favor cobbling together corner guys out of platoons, and neither has shown a willingness to pay even a prorated $19.5 million salary for a player like Bryant. And that’s holding both teams back—particularly the Rays.
After Tampa Bay lost the World Series last year, I wrote that they’d gone about as far as cleverness and guile could take a team. The Dodgers were also cleverly constructed, but they were buoyed by another $80 million (or $215 million, extrapolated for a 162-game season) in spending. The Rays and A’s will never spend like the Dodgers, but both teams could add an MVP-caliber slugger and still only spend like the Reds or the Twins. And as offense gets harder to come by in the playoffs, that could be the difference between a parade and a moral victory.
6. St. Louis Cardinals
This is extremely not going to happen. Not just because the Cardinals are locked down at the infield corners, but because this would be as incendiary as the Yankees trading Derek Jeter to the Red Sox if it happened. I’m going to get pelted with giardiniera for even speaking such sacrilege. But while Nolan Arenado is quite well situated at third base, Bryant would be the same kind of upgrade over left fielder Tyler O’Neill in St. Louis that he’d be over Riley in Atlanta. And imagine the takes. I can’t think of any trade in recent baseball history that sparked the kind of takes that a Bryant-to–St. Louis deadline deal would.
5. New York Mets
If new Mets owner Steve Cohen wants to convince everyone he’s the new big stack at the poker table, he should take a long, hard look at trading for Bryant. The Mets were viewed as a potential landing spot for Arenado last winter, and the team reportedly discussed a trade for Bryant well after Arenado and Lindor swapped teams. Plus, given that the Mets didn’t actually give up that much to acquire Lindor—primarily two infielders who were made redundant by Lindor’s acquisition—they still have plenty of prospects to offer.
The Mets are already strong at the corners, with Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, and (once he returns from injury) J.D. Davis. But Davis—who’s been a rousing success at the plate since he arrived from Houston three offseasons ago—is a defensive liability at third. Acquiring Bryant would shore up the Mets’ third-base defense, allow Davis to serve as bench depth (or a DH, should the Mets reach the World Series), and put a finger in the eye of the team’s big rivals. In addition to potentially leading to fun on- and off-field outcomes, this trade also makes practical sense.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
At first glance, the Phillies don’t seem to have a place to play Bryant. Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins are the two most indelible names on the lineup card. Alec Bohm—early-season slump notwithstanding—is the team’s best young hitter. And left fielder Andrew McCutchen seems to be coming out of an April slump, but Philadelphia could still try to upgrade there. The Phillies could stick Bryant in left, or put him at third and give Bohm the move off the dirt that his 6-foot-5 frame has long suggested is coming.
Or—and hear me out on this one—the Phillies could turn Bryant into a center fielder.
If you thought the Phillies’ bullpen was bad last year, their center fielders might be even worse this year. Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera, Adam Haseley, Mickey Moniak, and Scott Kingery—who, God bless him, has played three innings in center this season—have contributed a collective .126/.211/.207 batting line while playing the position. That’s a wRC+ of 19, which is a resounding last in baseball. The Braves are getting more offensive production from their pitchers than the Phillies are from their center fielders.
Bryant, meanwhile, has played more than 1,100 career big league innings in the outfield. Sure, only 26 1/3 have come in center, but he’s a smart player with a strong arm who runs well for a player his size. And after watching a season’s worth of highlights of Kyle Lewis and Cody Bellinger robbing home runs, I’m developing a theory that the most important attribute for a center fielder is being tall enough to haul the ball back over the fence. (This started as a joke but gets more and more serious the higher the leaguewide strikeout rate gets. I’ll probably genuinely believe it by mid-2023.)
Besides, the Phillies’ current collection of center fielders is so bad offensively that Bryant would represent an upgrade even if he played defense in handcuffs. This isn’t as neat a fit as the Mets or Braves, but the galaxy brain thinking involved in squeezing Bryant into the Phillies’ lineup makes it a more interesting option.
3. Seattle Mariners
2. Kansas City Royals
The most fun trades are the ones that announce that a team is really going for it. CC Sabathia going to the Brewers in 2008; Toronto double fisting David Price and Troy Tulowitzki in 2015; Houston snagging Randy Johnson in 1998. The Royals and Mariners might not still be in the playoff picture by the time July rolls around, but at the moment, they’re both in the hunt.
These teams got off to surprisingly strong starts thanks to some young talent: The Royals promoted Daniel Lynch to the rotation this week, making him the latest of their highly touted pitching prospects to reach the majors; and the Mariners could make a reasonable case for having all of their top six prospects—outfielders Julio Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic, and Taylor Trammell, and pitchers Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock, and George Kirby—in the majors by year’s end.
Either team—more likely Kansas City, given the state of the roster and division—could be a plausible playoff contender by the time trade rumor season kicks into high gear. And imagine one of these unassuming small-market franchises beating the rich teams for the biggest name on the trade market—a former MVP and charismatic superstar who’d attain legendary status in either city overnight. Both Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto and Kansas City GM Dayton Moore have made big win-now trades in the past, so such a scenario—while unlikely—is realistic enough to be tantalizing.
1. Chicago White Sox
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that these two crosstown rivals could combine on a trade, even a big one like this. It was just in 2017 that the White Sox traded star left-hander José Quintana to the Cubs for a package that included top prospects Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease. Trading Bryant across the city would represent a bigger risk, but not a completely unprecedented one.
This scenario has everything: the political awkwardness of the Cubs trading their biggest star to a local rival; Bryant’s arrival validating an up-and-coming club that’s big on young talent but short on postseason results; an MVP contender filling a giant gaping hole in the lineup; and maybe—with Luis Robert on the shelf for as long as four months—the opportunity for Bryant to get a run in center.