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February 01, 2020

If Phillies don't pursue Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado, it could cost them the NL East

If you are in the loop on the late but no less headline-worthy hot stove right now, you no doubt are aware that Kris Bryant lost his grievance with the Cubs, and is under team control for two seasons now before he can become a free agent after 2021.

The Phillies, as well as many other contending teams, have followed this closely, as the star third baseman is now both more desirable to acquire in a trade and more costly for teams buying. 

As with Nolan Arenado, the usual players seem to have been connected to Chicago in recent days — the Dodgers, Nationals, Braves and a few others. Very few baseball insiders see the Phillies as a viable option, which is a silly assumption to make as they have a need at third base, and the firepower to make a move for Bryant (or for Arenado for that matter).

Bryant is the same age as Arenado and has won an MVP award (Arenado hasn't)— but he is a "lite" version of the Rockies superstar at least by the numbers. There is no guarantee either 28-year-old third baseman gets traded this offseason, or at all, but one will likely set the market price for the other. If Bryant is first, Arenado will command a king's ransom. If Arenado goes, Bryant could be a little cheaper to be had.

We've already documented why it would be detrimental for the Phillies not to seriously get in the mix for Arenado. The same is true for Bryant. 

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The Phillies currently have a makeshift third base situation, with questions about whether top prospect Alec Bohm will be able to assume the starting role straight from Double-A, or if utility man Scott Kingery can handle everyday duties at a spot he's relatively unfamiliar with. 

We've established they need Bryant. Now, can they afford him? The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal examined exactly that issue as he surmised that whichever team makes a move for a big name third baseman could put themselves over the top in the NL East:

So, let’s say the Phillies acquired Bryant, pushing their luxury-tax payroll to $223.2 million. If the number remained still at that level at the end of the season, the Phils would pay $3.04 million in tax. The cost of Bryant, then, effectively would be $21.64 million, not counting the values of the prospects required to acquire him.

Not an inconsequential price, but in four of Bryant’s five seasons he was worth an average of $50.95 million according to Fangraphs’ dollars metric, which is WAR converted to a dollar scale based on what a player would earn in free agency. His one season that was an exception was 2018, when he appeared in only 102 games and still was worth $18.7 million.

The dollars metric is an estimate based solely on individual production. Bryant, though, would provide additional financial benefits if the Phillies reached the postseason and better yet, won the World Series. The Phils also would control Bryant for another season at a salary in the $25 million range before he became a free agent. 

Of course, the Phils might not want to give up the controllable assets the Cubs would want for Bryant – Kingery or Bohm, perhaps, and/or young pitching. Another problem is that pitching, by far, is the Phils’ greater need. Their rotation and bullpen both project as the worst of the Big Four. Thus, the better play might be for them to wait until the deadline, then try to acquire the best pitching available.  [The Athletic]

It's worth noting that a whole lot of salary relief is coming in 14 months, when Jake Arrieta, Didi Gregroius, Jay Bruce, David Robertson and others come off the books in Philadelphia. Yes, they'll need to scrape up the money to extend J.T. Realmuto and reinforce the pitching staff, but two of the best third basemen in the entire game are available. A swap of Bohm plus a few lower-level prospects for an All-Star MVP candidate is a pretty justifiable move. 

Or maybe not. NBC Sports Philadelphia's Corey Seidman thinks the price is too high.

Will the Phillies trade for Bryant? Many of their pursuits are made in silence so the perception of inactivity means little here. If forced to make a bet one way or the other though, I’d say it’s not happening. Camp is in two weeks. The Phillies have an entire infield of players they liked a lot at some point over the last 12 months. Of course Bryant would be an upgrade over everyone in that infield, but you can’t acquire Kris Bryant for a package of B-level prospects. A trade would cost a lot. Even two years of Bryant would be worth a top prospect and several more attractive pieces. A plausible negotiation would have the Cubs asking for both Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard plus more, the Phillies countering with Bohm and other goodies and the end result maybe costing Bohm and 2-3 more players you don’t feel comfortable moving.  [NBCSP]

Similarly, citing the Realmuto extension and the "Bohm factor," among other influences, beat writer Todd Zolecki doesn't surmise the Phillies will partake in a blockbuster trade anytime soon.

Imagine how the Phillies’ 2020 prospects would improve with Bryant or Arenado at third base or Betts in center field? They would jump from arguably the fourth-best team in the National League East to arguably the favorite. But there are no indications the Phils are in serious pursuit to land any one of them before Opening Day. Things change, of course. A year ago at this time, the Phillies and Marlins were not talking about a J.T. Realmuto trade, but one text got the ball rolling and a few days later Philadelphia landed the best catcher in the Majors. Still, it is difficult to imagine that happening again.  []

Rolling the dice with what they have is contrary to the "stupid money" approach the Phillies have presented the last two offseasons. If unsuccessful, Matt Klentak and the current regime could find the same fate as Gabe Kapler had a few months ago. 

This team needs to win, and it may mean playing some defense by getting in the game to prevent the Nationals, Mets or Braves (all in need of third base help and all contenders for a playoff spot) from making themselves runaway favorites by acquiring Bryant or Arenado.

IF a move is made, the Phillies need to make sure it's theirs. 

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