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How on earth did the Rays not land Kris Bryant?

The Rays watch a star third baseman the fans wanted go to the Giants for an underwhelming return.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Kris Bryant has been traded to the San Francisco Giants at the eleventh hour following days of speculation that he might ultimately end up a Tampa Bay Rays player.

The deal, as announced, is shockingly inexpensive — at least in terms of prospect capital:

Canario would not be a top-10 prospect in the Rays system. He might not be a top-20 prospect. Similar players that match his skillset and overall value to the organization would have been the likes of Niko Hulsizer or Ruben Cardenas — both players the Rays will need to consider trading ahead of a next year’s 40-man roster crunch. And that’s the best player moved in this deal.

For a former MVP!

Kris Bryant is a 29-year old super star in the final year of his contract with the Cubs. A former second overall draft pick, Bryant is a consistent on-base addition to the lineup. Since his debut in 2015 he finds himself just outside the top 10 hitters with a career 136 wRC+, on par with Mookie Betts, and has continued that level of performance with a 132 wRC+ this season — and an astonishing 199 wRC+ vs left handed pitching over 91 PA.

He’s not the best defender, but he is the sort of player that would have fit the Rays mix and match lineup easily, with an ability to cover infield and outfield slots.

Read More — Rays trade target: 3B/LF Kris Bryant

The reason for the Rays not making a deal for Bryant — as was likely the case for any team who didn’t meet this low cost of trade — is most likely financial.

In our trade target piece, we highlighted the likely need to include Kiermaier to the Cubs to finalize a deal due to salary constraints. If the Cubs didn’t want KK to compensate, or didn’t want to cover some of Bryant’s salary instead, then they probably didn’t want to deal with the Rays.

The Rays would have been on the hook for about 13 of Bryant’s $19.5 million salary. He’s not the sort of player the Rays should expect to retain next season when both New York clubs will surely be after his signature.

Perhaps paying Bryant $7.5 million to acclimate to the east coast was not enticing, particularly when the Rays are already on the hook for nearly that much following the acquisition of Nelson Cruz. However, that should not have precluded the Rays from being on a player of Bryant’s caliber, not when the cost in trade capital was so low, and also fit the range of prospects the Rays should be looking to deal.

Then again, this is not a uniquely Rays quandary. The Rays don’t have the same question marks at Third Base as even other teams in the division. The Yankees are trotting out Tyler Wade at Bryant’s preferred position tonight and, despite many deals this deadline, did not add Bryant either. Instead he’s going to the Giants, who are picking up his full salary, to fill the void left by Evan Longoria’s sprained shoulder.

In other words, perhaps this isn’t a Rays thing. Maybe it’s a money thing, a problem that impacted both teams up against the salary tax, and those near the non-existent floor. But also, maybe the Cubs just really like the prospects they picked up.

Nevertheless, one has to wonder, why on earth was Kris Bryant so cheap? The Rays didn’t have to make this trade — they already went and got Nelson Cruz to help a team weakness (hitting from the right side) — but they could have made this trade, seemingly easily.

As the Rays battle this weekend for the lead in the AL East, that’s a tough pill to swallow.