Earlier this spring, Kris Bryant told reporters that there have been no contract extension talks between his representatives and the Cubs.
The Cubs’ third baseman will become a free agent after the 2021 season if an extension is not agreed upon. Given the former National League MVP seems to be completely at peace about what the future may hold, what are the realistic outcomes fans could possibly see between Bryant and the organization that drafted him?
“There is no countdown in my mind. My mind is clear. I’m here. I’m present…It’s a good feeling…Who knows what year it could be? I could have 10 more years here. Who knows? I could come back as a coach. I could live in Chicago. I don’t know.”– Kris Bryant on his future with the Cubs
The Chances An Extension Gets Signed Before End of 2021 Season
In short, the chances are low, and for many reasons. First, Kris Bryant’s agent Scott Boras is notorious for playing hard-ball with teams. The Cubs may not even offer Bryant an extension, but if they do, expect Boras and his team to initially rebuff the offer.
There may even be some baggage stemming from 2015 when the Cubs called up Bryant just days after the deadline that would have allowed that season to count toward his service time.
In addition, the Ricketts family have been sellers, trading the likes of Yu Darvish and not signing players like Jon Lester for less money. COVID-19 has done a number on the Cubs’ ownership as the money spent on building up the hospitality industry around Wrigley Field has resulted in minimal return due to the pandemic.
On top of all of that, the Cubs’ future on the field is in doubt. Nearly half of the Opening Day roster could hit free agency next winter, including Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo. Who do the Cubs extend? They probably can’t/won’t extend the trio of Rizzo, Baez, and Bryant.
Does Bryant even stay healthy enough to warrant an extension? Are the Cubs even going to prove they are good enough to not blow up the roster after this season?
There are simply too many unknowns on both sides to think that an extension would get done before the season ends. The only way I could see it happening is if Bryant produces MVP-caliber numbers again and the Cubs run away with the division. Even then, Boras will play hard-ball and demand his client test free-agency.
Possible Ways This Plays Out
Assuming a deal does not get done this season, Bryant will become a free agent. That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t remain on the North Side, however.
Bryant could have a season like 2020, full of injuries and low production. This scenario would most likely result in Bryant’s time in Chicago coming to an end.
Either the Cubs will be good without Bryant — which means Baez and Rizzo significantly improve from their 2020 seasons — and Bryant is the odd man out, or the Cubs could have a poor season, miss the playoffs, and blow the whole thing up, meaning Jed Hoyer and co. may not even offer Bryant a deal.
If Bryant does have an above-average year like 2019 (31 HR, .903 OPS, 4.8 WAR), the Cubs will certainly entertain the idea of offering him a new deal depending on how the rest of the team is doing.
If the Cubs get off to a slow start and realize they aren’t contenders, trading a productive Bryant to a contender mid-season would be a no-brainer. If the Cubs turn it on and contend for a division title, a lot will depend on the team’s and Bryant’s playoff performances, which have left a lot to be desired in recent seasons.
What Would Bryant Command On The Open Market?
When analyzing third basemen who have recently become free agents, I looked at Anthony Rendon and compared his performances to Bryant. I specifically analyzed Rendon’s last three seasons before he signed his contract with the Angels. I also reviewed the last three full seasons Bryant played, excluding 2020.
While Bryant’s performance in 2020 was sub-par, he was injured and it was such an odd season due to COVID-19 that I decided to exclude those stats.
Rendon eventually signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Angels.
You can see that Rendon dominated Bryant in every major category and Bryant would have to improve upon his 2016 NL MVP season to get anywhere close to Rendon’s three-year rolling average after 2021.
The first thing to dissect is the length of the deal, which is mainly determined by age and injury history. Bryant will be 30 years old when testing the free agency waters, the same age as Rendon when he signed his deal with the Angels. Rendon ended up getting seven years and Bryant will probably not get more than that, especially due to his injury history. I would say it may be more likely he receives five- or six-year contract offers.
The next thing to look at, and the most important, is the amount of money. Rendon landed roughly $35 million per year, although he won’t get paid evenly throughout his deal.
Sure, Rendon’s status was buoyed by the fact he had won a championship in 2019, but in my opinion, Bryant would have to be one of the top 2-3 players in the MVP race and lead the Cubs to a deep playoff run to get close to that type of change.
Bryant is one of the better third basemen in the league, especially at the plate, but he hasn’t proven he can consistently stay healthy and he has also experienced regression from his two best years in 2016 and 2017.
My guess is that Bryant gets offered a six-year deal worth roughly $28-30 million per year if he compiles an above-average season, most likely at the heights of 2019 (4.8 WAR).
What happens between Kris Bryant and the Cubs will depend upon how he and the team perform this season. All I can say is I hope to see KB in a Cubs uniform for his entire career because that means both he and the Cubs had a very successful 2021.