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What If... The Rays had traded for Kris Bryant and Craig Kimbrel at the 2021 Trade Deadline?

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Evaluating rumored Rays trades that never happened.

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SPORTS-BBN-REDS-CUBS-2-TB Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In the public sphere we only learn about a small fraction of the moves that are actually discussed in MLB front offices. The few details that are leaked though are often interesting as they can give us a peek behind the curtain of a front office’s thoughts.

In this series we will look back at trades that the Rays reportedly discussed with other teams but never ended up getting to the finish line. How different would things have looked today if these deals went through? Let’s dig in.

2021 Mid-Season Deadline

The Reported Offer:

Rays get: 3B/OF Kris Bryant, RP Craig Kimbrel
Cubs get: CF Kevin Kiermaier, SP Tyler Glasnow

What would’ve happened?

Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported that the Cubs and Rays were discussing deals centered around the above players up until the July 31st trade deadline. At the time of these talks it was unknown (to the public at least) that Tyler Glasnow was going to need Tommy John surgery as he was rehabbing to try to make a return before the end of the season. Because of this, the absence of Glasnow would not have affected the outcome of the 2021 or 2022 Rays.

The additions of both Bryant and Kimbrel certainly would have affected the outcome of the team though as both have long been high profile players. We will never know how well either of them would have performed in a Rays uniform, but for what it’s worth Bryant hit .262/.344/.444 (113 wRC+) in 212 plate appearances with San Francisco and Kimbrel threw to a 5.09 ERA and 4.56 FIP in 23 innings with the White Sox. Both players were essentially rentals, as Bryant was set to become a free agent after the end of the season and Kimbrel had a $16M team option for 2022.

Neither guy played their best baseball down the stretch in 2021, but you have to wonder if either of them could have been the difference in the Rays lone playoff series against the Red Sox. The versatile Bryant would have likely started in all four games in the series, taking playing time from players such as Jordan Luplow and/or Joey Wendle depending on pitcher matchups. Kimbrel would have been a welcomed addition to the Rays playoff pitching staff as well, as the group allowed a lofty 26 runs in just four games.

However, It’s not a hot take to say that what the Rays were missing the most in the series was length out of their starting pitchers, and neither player in this deal would have helped that. It is quite possible that if the Rays would have made this deal, they would have been sitting in the same position as they are now only with out more future contributions from both Kiermaier and Glasnow.

What actually happened

Holding on to Kiermaier ended up paying dividends for the Rays as he actually out-hit Bryant after the trade deadline.

Kiermaier played his best baseball over the final two months of the season, as he hit .319/.407/.529 (158 wRC+) with 15 extra-base-hits across 140 plate appearances on top of his usual great defense. He also started in all 4 playoff games, hit 3 doubles in the series, and made a handful of great defensive plays including this incredible throw in game 4:

As mentioned earlier, Glasnow was unable to contribute down the stretch in 2021 and he is also projected to miss all of 2022.

By holding on to him, the Rays will either reap the benefits of his production in the 2023 season or acquire further value from him via trade.

Kiermaier is in a similar boat, as he is under contract through next season (plus an additional option year) but it is fair to wonder if Tampa Bay might trade him this winter given the presence of Josh Lowe in the high minors.

Are the Rays better off?

Given what we know now, the Rays are probably happy that the Cubs did not accept this trade. Considering the way Kiermaier played down the stretch, the slim (but possible) chance that Glasnow could return from injury to contribute to the Rays late in the season, and the future years of control that both players possess, I think the Rays did just fine by hanging on to their guys.

Of course there is a chance that Bryant and Kimbrel could have impacted the 2021 Rays in ways that I’m not giving them credit for, but because neither player would have addressed the team’s biggest playoff need I am reluctant to pull the trigger on this deal in hindsight.