Potential landing spots for Cubs stars: Kris Bryant to NL East; Anthony Rizzo joins rising AL squad

Last week, the Cubs sent Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish as well as Victor Caratini — a quality backup who served as Darvish’s personal catcher — to the Padres for one year of Zach Davies and four prospects who are far away from reaching the majors. The next day, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made comments that indicated this was not the start of a drastic rebuild. I tried to sort out their path forward here

We can’t be sure at all what the rest of the offseason holds for the Cubs, notably their core veteran players who aren’t under contract too much longer. We can be sure they’ll at least listen to offers on pretty much any player. Hoyer said as much when asked about All-Star catcher Willson Contreras

Speaking of, Contreras is only two years from free agency and has a good trade value. All-Stars Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Craig Kimbrel are set to hit free agency after this season. Similar to Darvish, former ERA champ Kyle Hendricks has three years of control left, but it’s a very affordable deal given his track record. 

If the Cubs decide to keep wheeling and dealing this offseason, where might those names end up calling home? Let’s play matchmaker while also noting that this is totally speculative and for fun. There’s also the very real possibility none of them gets traded before Opening Day 2021. Please keep all this in mind. 

Hoyer said in his press conference that the Cubs feel like catcher is a strength on the team and that’s because of Contreras’ presence. He’s right. There’s also no one left on the team with as much trade value. The 28-year-old backstop has the ability to be one of the best offensive catchers in baseball and has a rocket for an arm. Contreras also learned how to frame at an above-average clip last season. He’s under team control for two more years and it’s possible his acquiring team could convince him to sign an extension. If the Philliles miss out on retaining J.T. Realmuto, they are an excellent landing spot. Regardless, anyone seeking catching help should be interested. 

The most popular Bryant destinations in the trade rumor mill have been the Phillies (the Bryce Harper connection that people won’t let go) and the Nationals (general manager Mike Rizzo continues to shoot those down). Let’s go elsewhere in the NL East, though. We know the Braves don’t mind using a star-caliber player for just one year. They did so with Josh Donaldson in 2019 and Marcell Ozuna last year. It’s possible they are ready to go with Austin Riley at third and Cristian Pache every day in center, but that leaves a question mark in left field and we know Bryant can play adequate defense in the outfield as well as third. As such, he’s a very good fit here. Plus, it looks like the Mets are aggressively coming while none of the other teams in the East are in rebuild mode. The Braves have the pieces to go get Bryant. 

First things first: I really don’t think Rizzo is going to be traded. We’re simply including him for the purposes of this exercise and by no means is it an impossibility. 

The Blue Jays are coming off a season in which they really broke through as a fun, up-and-coming team to watch. They made the playoffs thanks to the expanded field, but they looked so good for stretches and let’s keep in mind they didn’t even really have a home. 

It’s time to take the next step forward and who better to step in as a leader of the young position players who has been through all the postseason battles than Mr. Rizzo. The Jays intend to move Vladimir Guerrero back to third and Rizzo is excellent at picking errant throws at first base to help him along. 

As a bonus, the lefty Rizzo breaks up the righty-heavy middle (Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel, Teoscar Hernandez, Guerrero). 

I really like this fit, even if I don’t think it ultimately happens. 

I also expect Baez to stay put, but it’s possible he goes. The Twins are a fit based upon recent reporting. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, in the middle of December, mentioned the Twins could trade Luis Arraez in order to move Jorge Polanco to second base. They’d then find someone to play shortstop as a stop-gap option before top prospect Royce Lewis arrives. Baez only has one year left on his deal, plays a dazzling shortstop and could thrive somewhere in the 5-7 range in the Twins’ homer-heavy offense. Other players would surely be involved, but it would make sense for the Arraez to go with the Cubs as part of the deal. 

Again: I don’t think the Cubs are interested in dealing Hendricks. We’re just operating under a created reality where they are trading all these guys. If he was made available, the Angels would be a damn fine spot even if we ignored the Joe Maddon connection. 

The Angels hit well last year and there’s reason to believe that at least holds with the chance they get better. They did not, as a whole, pitch well, though there’s upside in Griffin Canning, and Dylan Bundy had a really nice season. Throw Hendricks atop that rotation with Bundy and Canning followed by Jaime Barria and Andrew Heaney — while dreaming of a healthy Shohei Ohtani — and you’ve really got something there. 

It’s possible Kimbrel isn’t really trade-able right now and that especially remains the case with relievers like Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Alex Colome and more available. There’s one year and $16 million left on Kimbrel’s deal along with a club option for 2022 that carries a $1 million buyout, which means it’s actually $17 million left in commitment from the club level. 

His numbers with the Cubs are beyond ugly, but 2020 provided reasons to believe things have turned. If you simply lop off his first four outings, Kimbrel’s last 14 appearances were worth a 1.42 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 26 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. He held hitters to a .098 average without allowing an extra-base hit. In September alone, he was ridiculous. He worked 7 1/3 innings, allowing zero runs on just three hits (all singles) while striking out 13. He didn’t walk anyone. 

If Kimbrel is dealt, and assuming the White Sox miss out on some of the bigger relief names mentioned above, there’s a fit here on the South Side. You can bet new manager Tony La Russa wants a bona fide, ninth-inning “closer” and Kimbrel looked so good down the stretch.