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Free Agent Primer: Kris Bryant

The Former NL MVP And World Series Champion Is Using Versatility To His Advantage While Awaiting A New Opportunity On The Free Agent Market

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Chicago Cubs Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

As the infield market was predominantly focused around big money shortstops (Marcus Siemen, Cory Seager, Javier Baez, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa) prior to the lockout on December 2, NL MVP Kris Bryant (2016) continues to fly under the radar as a savvy veteran who can be plugged into any lineup and find a successful way to produce on a daily basis. When looking at the remaining free agent class in positions that Bryant can fill, it becomes apparent there is a steep drop off of talent at a reasonable age that is worthy of a long term contract.

Taking into account the Angels current roster on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, it initially seems there is no realistic room for Bryant to be added to the squad. However, general manager Perry Minasian and manager Joe Maddon are two peas in a pod when it comes to being creative with cultivating and executing a roster with role players that fit the “Play Like It’s 1985” theme in Anaheim. You must think outside the box and that is how our mindset will be as we consider a run at being Bryant’s third franchise to play for in his career.

WHAT WAS HIS 2021 LIKE?

Following a shortened 2020 season that was unusual for most, Bryant bounced back from a lackluster campaign and proved he is still a stable force in the middle of any lineup. Entering the final season of his initial contract with the Chicago Cubs, the former No. 2 overall pick got off to a red hot start in April and May combining to slash .324/.406/.611 with 12 HR, 36 RBI and 15 Doubles through 50 games. Bryant earned MLB Player of the Week honors for the National League from April 26 - May 2 after posting four multi-hit games, 4 HR and 10 RBI in the six-game stretch. The Las Vegas, NV native made the weekly MLB honor a lock for himself on the final day of eligibility (May 2) during a 13-12 loss in 10 innings to the Cincinnati Reds. Bryant kicked off the scoring with an RBI double in the first, while bashing two solo home runs in the third and fifth inning, for a total of nine on the year.

Even though June was a complete slump for the right-hander, he still found a way to collect a .271 Avg., 16 HR, 46 RBI, 50 Runs and 17 Doubles in 81 games during the first-half, leading to his fourth career All-Star selection alongside Cubs teammate Craig Kimbrel. Bryant’s stats held the standard for the Cubs as he led the team in batting average, hits, runs scored, doubles and OPS.

As the Cubs sat two games under .500 (44-46) and eight games back of the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central division coming out of the All-Star break, there was hope the core of the Cubs (Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez) could make one last run at the playoffs before potentially going their separate ways during the offseason. However, going 6-8 to open the second-half, including losing three of four to division rival St. Louis Cardinals, made the Cubs front office act quick and decide to cut loose their impending free agents and start anew and at least get something of value in return. On July 30, Bryant was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for OF Alexander Canario and RHP Caleb Kilian. For one of the faces of the franchise, who had nothing but love for the community of Chicago, to leave midseason was a difficult move, but the right one based on the business of baseball perspective.

Once the emotions settled and it was time to get down to business with the NL West leading Giants, Bryant filled in wherever the contenders needed him the most. Playing 26 games at third base and 35 games in the outfield (19 in LF, 5 in CF and 11 in RF), Bryant did not miss a beat. At the plate he posted a .262 Average with 7 HR, 22 RBI and 13 Doubles in 51 games, helping the Giants to capture the NL West crown over the Los Angeles Dodgers with a record of 107-55.

Once the page turned to the postseason Bryant was nothing short of dynamic. The righty batted .471 (8-for-17) in the five games, including a solo home run in game one off Walker Buehler, leading to a 4-0 shutout victory. The Giants eventually lost to their rival Dodgers three games to two in the best of five NLDS series, but with everything Bryant endured during the 2021 season, he absolutely proved he is still a top-tier player in this league that provides a much needed consistent thump at the top or middle of the lineup.

WHAT IS HIS MARKET LIKE?

For this being the first time in his career that Bryant will be able to test the free agent market, the amount of teams vying for his services will be substantial. Due to his versatility and veteranship, he can plug away and get down to business in a hurry. Bryant’s agent, the infamous Scott Boras, is the wild-card factor that will separate the men from the boys when it comes to contract offers. Currently, MLB Trade Rumors projects a six-year, $160 million deal, while ESPN projects a five-year deal with a $90 million price tag.

Prior to the lockout, there were eight teams interested with only three viewing him as a full-time third baseman. Those three suitors were the up-and-coming Seattle Mariners, Colorado Rockies who are in line to lose their face of the franchise in Trevor Story and New York Mets, who originally were lurking around a Bryant trade during the 2021 trade deadline but did not pull the trigger. The others, including the Angels, would utilize Bryant the most in the outfield but would need to slightly juggle their roster in order for it to be more of a realistic option. Either way, the limited quality of remaining offensive free agents makes the market for Bryant more competitive.

SHOULD THE ANGELS BRING HIM ON?

On a quick knee-jerk reaction, Bryant is obviously a player the Angels would love to have based on his veteran leadership and consistency at the plate through his seven-year career. Based on the current Halos roster, it seems difficult to add him into the fold, but there’s one glaring scenario that could expedient the process… PITCHING! It is not a shock the Angels have lacked pitching for the better half of the 2010’s into the 2020’s, and even though they have added Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen, they still need at least one more bonafide starter to help round out the rotation. The way they can do that is via the trade market for someone along the lines of Luis Castillo from the Reds. It would definitely cost the Angels multiple players and possibly some minor league prospects, but at the Major League level, Brandon Marsh and/or Jo Adell would be two rising stars other teams would want to garner in a deal. If so, it opens up the right field position where Bryant has played 109 career games with a fielding percentage of .974 (4 errors in 156 total chances).

Looking abstractly in the infield, with no legitimate shortstop, David Fletcher could always shift to the left side of the infield and Bryant could squeeze next to Jared Walsh, creating a gold glove caliber defensive infield (with Anthony Rendon at third), which could only make Maddon salivate at the opportunity. Also, Bryant has found great success in his career against left-handed pitching, batting to the tune of a .298 average in 901 plate appearances. Having a strong bat against lefties would create a platoon option between him, Walsh and Justin Upton based on righty vs. lefty matchups on a game-by-game basis.

It should be noted that Bryant has a deep relationship with Maddon that stems from their days with the Cubs. Bryant has looked up to the Angels skipper as a baseball father figure and took his move back to the Angels with bittersweet emotions. Maddon has a knack for bringing in players he has previously coached like Ben Zobrist (Rays & Cubs), Alex Cobb (Rays & Angels) and Dexter Fowler (Cubs & Angels), which generally end up working in Maddon’s favor.

From a counter position, Bryant’s age, price and possibility of playing limited games at his primary third base position could play a factor into him choosing another team. The Angels have a track record of signing players past their best prime years and trying to strike gold with a low risk, high reward type situation. It did not pay off with Albert Pujols and the laundry list of pitchers over the years is enough proof to last a lifetime. To ice the cake, owner Arte Moreno does not have a good relationship with Boras, who works hard at driving up the price on his bigger named clients. Tying up over $20 million a year on a 30-year-old veteran who could keep the Angels away from signing younger talent across the diamond (now and in the near future) may be the biggest deterrent of them all. Even if Moreno claims “money is not an option”, it somehow becomes the main focus when the Angels are either outbid or attempt to piece together positions with a flurry of one-year deals.

To bring an ethos like Bryant’s to the clubhouse would be a welcomed sight to the Angels organization that already has charismatic players such as Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. The impact he can bring to the game on a number of levels would keep the Halos on the path of competing in the American League to get back to the postseason, where they have not been since 2014. With the Angels track record of injuries over the past few seasons, this potential move is a worthy insurance policy with plenty of upside.

Poll

Should the Angels sign Bryant if a primary utility spot opens after the lockout?

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Yes, a proven winner helps this team
    (52 votes)
  • 55%
    No, probably too large of a contract
    (64 votes)
116 votes total Vote Now