The Yankees could really use a starting-caliber center fielder, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use a corner outfielder as well. Giancarlo Stanton is not an option to be a starter there anymore, and at this point, the less the team relies on Miguel Andújar and Clint Frazier, the better.
Now that the Chicago Cubs are expected to be sellers at the deadline, it makes sense for them to trade third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant. The former NL MVP, World Series winner, and Rookie of the Year is still somehow 29, and is having a rebound season after suffering through injuries in the last couple of years.
Bryant is hitting .271/.351/.503 with 16 home runs and a .854 OPS in 80 games. Last season was rough for him, as he batted .206/.293/.351 with a .644 OPS in 34 contests, but he looks closer to his MVP form now that he’s healthy, even if he’s not the all-world masher he appeared to be four or five years ago.
The key with Bryant that will spur Chicago into action is that he will be a free agent after the season. He profiles as your typical, star-level rental. It can be hard to precisely value just a few months of a high-level player, and I’m sure the Yankees won’t have the same valuation as the Cubs.
Bryant, the batter, would be an obvious upgrade for the Yankees’ lineup. He is a career 136 wRC+ hitter, well above-average, who is still theoretically in his prime. He can draw walks, he can hit for power, and he has a long track record of success, as all the previously described hardware suggest.
Defensively, he was once a very good third baseman, but is now a slightly above-average defensive performer at the hot corner (1 Out Above Average in 2021) and a passable fielder in the outfield corners and even first base.
While he has played some center field this season (83.2 innings) asking him to do it regularly would be too much. Overall, his bat and his defensive versatility should make him an enticing target for the Bronx Bombers. He would obviously lengthen a lineup that has gone cold at times, and his flexibility would a plus. All that said, a deal remains unlikely for several reasons.
Don’t get me wrong, Bryant very well could get moved at the deadline. It’s just that it’s very difficult to see Hal Steinbrenner approving a deal considering that they want to stay under the luxury tax threshold (even if he implied he would be willing to go past the limit should he consider the Yankees needed it).
Bryant comes with a price tag. He is making $19.5 million this season, and that’s his luxury tax number as well. Fitting him in under Hal’s payroll restraints would be hard, unless they accept that, if they want to save the season, they may need to go over the limit.
The other issue, on top of the salary implications, would be determining what kind of return the Cubs would be seeking. Bryant is a high-profile player in the league, who happens to be available for only a handful of months for the team that decides to acquire him.
And since the Yankees won’t be dealing any of their stars or vital controllable players, that leaves only prospects to deal. Clint Frazier, Deivi Garcia, and Miguel Andújar don’t have too much value right now, and the Cubs would have no use for some of the Yankees’ veteran relievers that they could be open to dealing.
The Yankees do have plenty of interesting prospects, especially in Low-A, High-A, and Double-A. Finding a match in terms of prospects is certainly possible, and isn’t the primary hurdle to a deal. But as much as a Bryant trade could help in theory, the luxury tax question makes him an unlikely target.