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Rays trade target: 3B/LF Kris Bryant

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays made the first major move of the trade deadline season when they added designated hitter Nelson Cruz, but they might not be done in adding where they can. Their name has been connected as a team that has had interest in almost every notable name on the trade block.

The Rays are big game hunting and one of the biggest gets would be Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs.

What would Kris Bryant bring to the Rays?

Bryant is a four-time All-Star that has won the National League Rookie of the Year (2015) and National League Most Valuable Player Award (2016). He was a major piece in a team that won the 2016 World Series.

At the plate is where Bryant would be expected to provide the biggest impact. In his 3,622 plate appearance career he has hit .279/.378/.508 and put up a 136 wRC+. Since his debut in 2015 he finds himself just outside the top 10 hitters by wRC+, tied with Mookie Betts. The Rays have already brought in the #2 man on this list, Nelson Cruz who possesses a 149 wRC+ in that time frame.

In 2020, Bryant suffered many injuries on the way to his worst offensive season and it wasn’t even close. In 147 plate appearances he put up a .206/.293/.351 line and 77 wRC+. His next worst season was his 2018 season when he put up a 126 wRC+. Everything was missing. His strikeout rate was up significantly (27.2%) to a point where it almost matched his rookie season’s rate. However the issue with his wrist caused his power to evaporate. He went from a consistent mid .200s ISO to a below league average .145 ISO.

This year everything has rebounded.

Bryant’s 10.5% walk rate and 23.8% strikeout rate are in line with his career rates and more importantly the .269/.359/.508 slash line and 133 wRC+ is just a small dip from his career line, even though he’s played through some hamstring fatigue.

Batted ball stats also tell us that Bryant is his usual as well, as his 36.0 hard hit rate and 10.1% barrels per batted ball are up back into his typical ranges he posted outside of 2020. By comparison, his 10.1% barrels per batted ball and 6.4% barrels per plate appearance are tied with Austin Meadows and only trailing Nelson Cruz and Brandon Lowe on the Rays.

Bryant is an on base machine that would lengthen the Rays lineup.

What role would he fill on a packed Rays roster?

Bryant is as versatile as any player the Rays have had since Ben Zobrist popularized the super utility player. The only position Bryant hasn’t played as a position player is catcher and second base. He only has one inning at shortstop, but he’s played everywhere else and most places a significant amount of time.

Bryant’s most common position has been third base where he’s amassed 5,351.0 innings and 1,540.0 innings in the outfield split between left (796.1), center (108.2), and right (635.0).

More importantly than having stood at these positions he’s played them capably. Third base is where he’s graded out worse with a -4 DRS and +1.1 UZR over nearly four full seasons f play. He’s not great anywhere but he’s generally around average.

This year Bryant’s played 457.0 innings in the outfield and only 195.1 innings at third.

If the Rays picked him up he’d likely see play but I would expect him to be the everyday third baseman. He could see some time in the outfield filling in for Austin Meadows against left handed pitchers where Bryant is the far more capable defender.

This would improve the Rays offense while keeping their run prevention unit in tack. Yandy Diaz would be the most likely player to lose playing time where he’d become mostly a short sided platoon mate of Ji-Man Choi at first base.

What would the Rays offer?

The Rays typically hold onto their prospects for dear life. When they do trade prospects it typically is for players with a lot of team control left like when they sent Jesus Sanchez to Miami for Nick Anderson or when they traded Matthew Liberatore to the St. Louis Cardinals for Randy Arozarena.

It’s not like the Rays to make the big splash at the deadline for a rental. The Rays already have stepped out of their comfort range once when dealing for Nelson Cruz, but could they make a second big splash?

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Rays farm system is one of the strongest and deepest in the land. If the Rays wanted to get any player they could absolutely force the issue, but they are continue to be rational. They will make upgrades when the cost is deemed reasonable.

What makes a reasonable deal? Moving pieces while they can get value before they are forced to lose them due to the strength of the 40 man roster.

The Rays have already done this when they traded Joe Ryan (rule five eligible this winter) and Drew Strotman (40 man) in the Cruz trade.

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs did a fantastic job breaking down the 40 man situation the Rays face this winter.

The Rays have 50 players on the 40 man (10 currently on the 60-day Injured List). They have four “must add” prospects, per his review (Shane Baz, Tanner Dodson, Blake Hunt, and Ford Proctor) while having 11 players listed as “prospects on the finge.” Of course some players will become free agents (6) and they have some players who could be DFA’d to make room, but the Rays will likely need to convert some of this talent via trade. In an ideal world the Rays would get some value for all of those players on the fringe before the 40 man space forces them to make moves.

Some of these moves will need to made in the very near future as Nick Anderson, Chris Archer, and Tyler Glasnow make their way back to the roster. The first two have already started minor league rehab assignments, and their 30-day rehab assignment clock is ticking.

Players like Ruben Cardenas, Niko Hulsizer, Jonathan Aranda, Michael Mercado, Tommy Romero, or Tobias Myers are the types of players the Rays would be looking to move as secondary pieces in this type of trade or in a bulk move similar to reported deal between the New York Yankes and Texas Rangers for Joey Gallo.

Will the Rays trade for Kris Bryant?

Kris Bryant would be a luxury for the Rays. Yandy Diaz and Joey Wendle have performed very well while neither have claimed the everyday third base playing time. Bryant is an upgrade over Diaz at third base, but other teams should be willing to trade a significant piece in order to solidify their third base or corner outfield problems.

If the Cubs like the Rays second tier pieces that the team could comfortably trade to alleviate the 40 man pressure this winter it would make sense for the Rays to oblige and add a second impact bat to their lineup.

Dealing for Kris Bryant would hurt the Rays from a salary perspective, as the pro-rated portion of his $19.5 million salary is unlikely to be paid for by the Cubs; however, Chicago may be willing to take on Kevin Kiermaier’s salary as part of the trade. Kiermaier could also help bridge the Cubs defense until their top prospect CF Brennen Davis is ready.

Kiermaier has two years remaining on his contract with an option for 2023, and all years are in the eight-digit salary range. Kiermaier is from the greater Chicago area, and his brother works for the team as Wrigley Field’s Head Groundskeeper. If the Rays were to ever trade the veteran Kiermaier, it’s difficult to come up with a better location for him on a personal level.

I don’t think this trade is likely to happen, as the Rays already made their big splash, but they are talking to everybody and if the right pieces align they are in the position they could add a player Kris Bryant to make a run at the division and ultimate a deep postseason run.