It has been a weird offseason. Cleveland dangled Francisco Lindor before realizing it’s good to have good players on your team. Boston has made clear they want to cut payroll and have potentially-maybe-possibly offered up the actual second best player in baseball in Mookie Betts to avoid a dastardly arbitration payout. And the Chicago Cubs, the onetime future dynasty that was going to dominate baseball for a decade, is apparently prepared to trade a guy that was supposed to be a cornerstone of that presumptive dynasty.
Yes, Kris Bryant. The 2015 Rookie of the Year and 2016 NL MVP is coming off some injury-hampered seasons, and projected to make $18.5 million in arbitration, and the Ricketts family feels they just can’t afford it, despite the pending sale of TD Ameritrade. Funny, that.
But enough about dumb owners, let’s just talk about players. The Yankees have a choice for 2020; does Miguel Andujar get back his job as the everyday third baseman, or does 2019 breakout Gio Urshela deserve a chance to repeat his success, a season that was actually better than Andujar’s 2018 Rookie of the Year finalist campaign?
The Yankees could decide to go a third way completely. Maybe they move Andujar to a different position, maybe they don’t really believe in Urshela, or maybe teams are interested in one player or the other as a trade piece. The Yankees could look into snagging Bryant from the Cubs in what would likely be a salary dump, getting back an All-Star level talent without parting with a market prospect cost.
Bryant is a talented hitter, coming off a 135 wRC+ season that would have tied him with DJ LeMahieu for the second best hitter on the 2019 Yankees. It’s a little bit of a step down from the 145ish wRC+ he was a couple of years ago, but a 30% above average hitter year in and year out can play on my team any day.
Bryant’s also showed a remarkable ability to play around the field - his primary position is third, of course, but he’s logged more than a thousand career innings in the outfield and even has some time at first. We’ve seen the Yankees increasingly value guys who can play multiple positions—DJ is a perfect example of this. The team is also comfortable playing Gleyber Torres at either middle infield position, and Mike Tauchman was trusted to play all three outfield spots in 2019.
The issue with Bryant has been injury, with an ankle problem ending his 2019 early, while battling a balky shoulder robbed him of a productive 2018. His return to plus hitting would indicate to me that the shoulder isn’t a concern, but certainly the Yankees have had enough issues with injuries that it’s worth considering.
The big logjam to any Bryant deal is it gives the Yankees three third basemen, and even with a 26-man roster, that’s about two more than you need. Urshela has options, but it’s hard to imagine that Andujar won’t be starting in the majors in some form or another in 2020. Maybe the Yankees decide to deal Andujar somewhere to shore up the rotation, and then take Bryant as a salary piece, but otherwise, there’s probably not a deal for Bryant to be made.
The fact that Kris Bryant is available at all is probably more indicative of deeper problems within the league, but it could be an arbitrage opportunity (ick) for the Yankees if they can clear the space. As a last plus, he’s one of the five or so most handsome players in baseball, and pairing him on a calendar with Torres could pay for his salary by itself.