It’s always exciting when local air raid siren David Kaplan emerges to see if he and everyone else can still hear his voice (all too well, friendo). So it was interesting on Wednesday, when Kaplan went on ESPN 1000 and broke a story about the Cubs offering Kris Bryant a contract-extension worth over $200 million that Bryant and his agent Scott Boras turned down. It’s always a little jarring for anyone to see that amount of money being pushed back across the table with a “thanks, but no thanks.” But baseball isn’t the normal world.
Of course, Kaplan made no mention of how many years this extension was for. Which is kind of a big deal. If it was real (a big if), we can only guess it was for somewhere around six or seven years, because that’s the only number that makes any sense. Anything more than that, which drops the average yearly salary nearer and nearer to $20 million, wouldn’t make any sense.
Then it emerged on Thursday that this offer could have taken place anywhere from last October to somewhere during this season, as Kaplan’s definition of “several” would be described as murky. Which makes the timing of this “leak,” a tad strange. And then Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reported that his sources said this “simply not true” beyond any standard offseason discussions that might go on. So who knows. But it’s still worth discussing.
If you’re of the school that the Cubs don’t let anything out of the house without a specific plan, then this might be an attempt to somewhat poison the water around Bryant. After all, this was the first down year of Bryant’s career. It was the first where he dealt with a serious injury. Did the Cubs think that sneaking in when Bryant first witnessed the fragility of baseball stardom might convince him to come in a little under market in exchange for the security that he is now more aware isn’t always guaranteed? Nothing is done on Clark Street without a stiff calculation. It would almost be silly for the Cubs to not do so, and that’s if the offer was made relatively recently.
But if the offer was made before this past season, and only the news of it is coming now, what would the point be exactly? To make Bryant seem ungrateful after a down year while the actual date of the offer gets lost in the headline? To show other players that they still believe that Bryant is the superstar he is and they all will be treated just as well? That would be the good side of it.
We also have to allow for the fact that Kaplan might either just be lighting a dumpster on fire to get attention, or he held this story long enough so that it makes a bigger splash when there’s a quizzical eye being thrown at the Cubs for the first time. Don’t rule anything out.
Still, you wonder how much the Cubs would be saving and how much Bryant would be costing himself. He’s coming up on his second year of arbitration, and his first saw a salary of $10 million. You have to figure that’s going up to at least $12 million this winter, if not $15 million, whatever this past season brought.
It’s not a fair comparison, because Josh Donaldson was in his fourth arbitration year when he set the record for highest salary. But last winter he signed for $23M, and he was coming off a .270/.385/.559 season with a 151 wRC+ and a .396 wOBA. This followed two seven- or eight-WAR seasons for Donaldson, and all of this seems in the pocket for Bryant in the years to come. It won’t happen this winter, but in the winter of 2020, you can easily see Bryant eclipsing that $23M figure, if only due to natural inflation. So if that extension offer was only promising him an AAV of $25 million or so, as an eight-year extension would have, you sort of get it. And then Bryant still has the fourth year of arbitration after that.
Still, you wonder what calculation Boras has regarding Bryant’s free agency in the winter of 2022. First off, Bryant will be hitting free agency with a new CBA in place, which honestly could look like anything. Baseball’s revenue seems to be growing while its attendance is falling, and one wonders how long regional sports networks are going to continue to be a money spigot (a very important issue around these parts). There’s simply no way Boras can know for sure what’s coming.
Second, the game is skewing younger and younger. Unlike Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, Bryant won’t be hitting the open market at 25. He’ll be 30, and the thinking going around the league now is that around 32 or 33 is when players start to really decline, or can no longer live the velocity in the game comfortably. Maybe Bryant gets a five-year deal then worth $150-$200 million, but there are a lot of ifs there. And that is basically the length of time we’d have to guess the Cubs were offering here.
Which leads to a lot of heart-stopping discussion about what the Cubs might do come 2022. Bryant will likely be a free agent, and Rizzo will be 32, possibly on the precipice of that age when modern thinking says he’ll be on a downward trajectory. It also happens that Rizzo will be a free agent then. Yikes.
Look, the Cubs aren’t going to shop Bryant now, no matter what the rumor mill belches out in the next few weeks. Even if it were something you would consider—and it isn’t unless someone’s been spiking the water in the offices with stuff you can only find in various Scandinavian labs—you wouldn’t do it after a down year. That’s selling low.
What we might want to consider is that the Cubs have three more seasons of maximum damage to be done, and then there may be some much harder decisions to be made.
Or the Ricketts could just pay everyone because, y’know, they have several billion dollars, and soon their presumptive TV station will have rake in lots more. Bryant could be a Cub for life, if they will it to be.
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports