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Coming off a down year where he was limited to just 102 games because of a shoulder injury, the Cubs are open to trading 3B Kris Bryant, reports ESPN's Buster Olney.
According to Olney, The Cubs -- who have failed to agree on a long-term extension with Bryant, who is repped by Scott Boras -- could trade Bryant this winter.
With Bryant and Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard both 26 years old and both arbitration-eligible through 2021 before being eligible for free agency, a swap of the two could make sense...
Why the Mets should consider it:
The Mets have three big needs at the moment: upgrading catcher, upgrading the back end of the bullpen, and finding a right-handed hitting power bat -- ideally one who can play third base. With the team reportedly leery about free agent Manny Machado, Bryant could become the perfect solution.
With Bryant, the Mets would get a player with massive power who is just two years removed from an MVP season, projects to make $12.4 million in 2019 (probably $20 million or so less than Machado) and has a career triple slash of .285/.385/.515 in four big league seasons.
If the Mets aren't going to bid in for franchise-altering free agents such as Machado and Bryce Harper, they need to go outside the box when looking for a franchise-altering piece. And a trade of Syndergaard for Bryant would qualify.
One potential red flag is the shoulder injury that limited Bryant to 13 homers this past season, which included just two homers the final month of the season after he came off the DL.
Why the Cubs should consider it:
The Cubs are loaded with offensive firepower. But since 2015, they have fallen short in the playoffs every year but one. And one of the reasons (along with their disappearing October offense) has been their lack of a true ace. While they have multiple years of control remaining for their top four starting pitchers, the outlook isn't that rosy.
Jon Lester (4.39 FIP, 7.38 K/9 in 2018) is not an ace anymore, Yu Darvish (4.95 ERA/4.86 FIP in 40 innings in 2018 before being shut down due to injury) is a huge question mark, Jose Quintana (4.03 ERA/4.43 FIP in 2018) has never been an ace, and Kyle Hendricks (3.44 ERA/3.78 FIP in 2018) has not been able to match the ace-like performance he had in 2016.
Syndergaard, who had a 3.03 ERA (2.80 FIP) and 1.21 WHIP with 155 strikeouts in 154.1 innings in 2018, is an ace when healthy -- and has shown that in 2015 (3.24 ERA/3.25 FIP/9.96 K's per 9), 2016 (2.60 ERA/2.29 FIP/10.68 K's per 9), and 2017 (2.97 ERA/1.31 FIP/10.09 K's per 9 in just 30.1 innings due to missing most of the season due to a torn lat).
For the Cubs, the concern with Syndergaard, who has so far avoided Tommy John surgery, will be whether he'll develop serious arm problems due in part to his high velocity.
If the Cubs are on board, should the Mets pull the trigger?
Yes, contingent on two things:
1.) The Mets would need to be confident that the shoulder injury that drained Bryant's power in 2018 is 100 percent behind him.
2.) After trading Syndergaard, the Mets would need to dip into the free agent market or make a trade to replace Syndergaard in the rotation with another high-upside arm. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and James Paxton are among the names available via trade, but the Mets would likely need to gut their farm system (while out-bidding other teams) to land any of them. So the more likely scenario would be the free agent market, where Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi are available.
There will be some who say Syndergaard straight up for Bryant wouldn't be enough, simply because of the risk involved in a team trading one position player for one pitcher. Bryant was worth 7.9 fWAR and 7.4 bWAR during his MVP season in 2016, while Syndergaard was worth 6.3 fWAR and 5.0 bWAR the same year.
While the gap in value from MVP-level Bryant to ace-level Syndergaard isn't enormous, If the Cubs asked the Mets to sweeten the pot, they should do it -- but not while including any core pieces off the big league roster or any of their three top prospects (Peter Alonso, Andres Gimenez, and Justin Dunn).
Even after reaching this conclusion, though, I can't help but come back to the fact that signing Machado and keeping Syndergaard would be so much simpler and make so much more sense. But if the Mets truly don't think Machado is worth it, going all-in for Bryant is the next-best option.