A few years ago, the Yankees and Cubs were in opposite points of contention. The Yankees were reluctant sellers, trading away key expiring contracts to jumpstart a rebuild into the next generation of Yankees teams. The Cubs were championship favorites, seeking to add insurance for a curse-breaking title push. Both teams found common ground, and they made a deal that worked out fantastically for each side.
Now the situation is different. The Yankees have been a team that’s come close, but not close enough to a World Series title, while the Cubs have stagnated from their peak in 2016. This has prompted both the release of Joe Maddon and a consideration from Theo Epstein to rework the roster.
The Cubs have reportedly considered trading stars such as Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, as well as key members of the team like Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. They probably wouldn’t move Baez or Bryant without drawing a fairly high price in prospects, and depending on other teams’ interest the Yankees could get outbid, but they should at the very least make a competitive offer to see if they could swipe them away.
Baez has been at the top of the NL offensively for the past several seasons, and has done so while playing great defense at a premium position. Baez finished second in the NL MVP race last season and followed that up with another All-Star campaign, slashing .281/.316/.531 with 29 home runs and 85 RBI. Baez is under team control for another two seasons, so he would come at a high premium if he moved at all.
Bryant’s career runs parallel to the rise and fall of the Cubs. Bryant’s red-hot rookie campaign in 2015 coincided with the Cubs’ return to the playoffs, and his MVP season in 2016 topped off with hoisting the World Series trophy. Since then however, Bryant has dealt with some falling off.
He was still a top 10 player in the NL in 2017 when he slashed .295/.409/.537, but the team didn’t give him enough opportunities to drive home runs and his traditional stats suffered from that. The 2018 campaign was a lost season, as Bryant struggled with injury and missed a significant portion of the year. Bryant returned to form offensively in 2019, but his defense has declined and is average value-wise.
Bryant is an interesting case in that he is a clear, proven star with a track record of dominance and doubt. At only 27 and with two years of control, he is still definitely worth considering. Bryant is the best case scenario mix of the two third baseman the Yankees already have, with elite offense and a compromise between Gio Urshela’s stellar glove and Miguel Andujar’s inconsistent one. Bryant would also be expensive, but of the two stars he may be the one more likely to move this offseason.
Contreras is a lesser piece than the previous two, and the Yankees are set at catcher with Gary Sanchez, but there could be a worthwhile reason to consider acquiring him. Our own Aaron Esposito theorized last week that the Yankees should consider looking into getting another starting-caliber catcher to lighten the load on Sanchez, potentially allowing him to remain healthy and mashing throughout 2020.
The 27-year-old would be an ideal candidate for this method, as he is already a plus catcher under contract for several years and wouldn’t add much to the payroll. That means that he would cost some prospects to get, but he isn’t on the same tier as Baez/Bryant and the Yankees can afford to spend some of their chips on the lineup provided they improve their pitching staff in free agency.
Once upon a time the Yankees were very interested in Schwarber, but wound up trading for a promising middle infielder named Gleyber Torres instead. It’s safe to say they made the right call there, and there’s really no reason to reach out again. Schwarber profiles as a DH in the AL, and the Yankees already have plenty of bats that could use the role efficiently. He’s a decent power bat, but the Yankees are stocked in that category and could better use the resources needed to get him elsewhere.
The Cubs could be an interesting trade partner, and based on their current situation, they’ll definitely be interested in at least having discussions. Even though it seems like they’ll benefit from a retooling, there’s no guarantee that they actually make any moves, but if they do the Yankees should do their due diligence in working the phone lines.