The former MVP slogged through 34 games this year (.206/.293/.351) in a season that amounted to a prolonged slump. After raking in $18.6 million in 2020, Bryant may not even be issued a contract by Wednesday’s non-tender deadline, making him a free agent. It's more likely though, ahead of Bryant's final season before free agency, that Chicago will pursue a trade to shed his salary and acquire young talent.
Let's spotlight five landing spots for Bryant.
We know Alex Anthopoulos doesn't mind handing out one-year contracts to premium free agents looking for a bounce-back season. Bryant essentially falls in that category and could be Marcell Ozuna’s de facto replacement as a right-handed power bat. The Braves have been waiting to commit to Ozuna while they see whether the DH will stay in the NL, but Bryant is a more attractive option given his versatility in the field. He could take the majority of at bats at third and mentor Austin Riley, who would serve as a valuable bench piece if the Braves don’t have a DH spot to fill.
Washington’s third-base situation is similar to Atlanta’s, though its need for a right-handed power bat is even more pronounced. Carter Kieboom showed last season that he isn’t quite ready for a full-time job in the bigs, so Bryant could be a valuable stopgap for the Nationals as they try to recover from a disappointing season. The Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty recently reported that the Nats are indeed exploring a trade for Bryant, who knows manager Dave Martinez from his time on the Cubs' coaching staff between 2015 and ’17.
The nation’s capital seems like the most natural destination for Bryant. It’ll likely come down to whether they agree on which prospects will make it palatable enough for Chicago to move on from one of the most successful position players in team history.
Toronto Blue Jays
You'd be forgiven for forgetting the Blue Jays were a playoff team in 2020. Their 32–28 record was good enough to reach October as the AL's No. 8 seed, though the Rays dispatched Toronto in two games.
But the Blue Jays are good enough to win now, and Travis Shaw is not the best answer for them at third base when Kris Bryant is available. With the seventh-best farm system per MLB.com, there should be many avenues to a deal so long as the Blue Jays are willing to foot much of Bryant's salary (which is far from a guarantee).
MLB Network's Jon Heyman identified the Blue Jays as a trade partner Monday morning, and it's easy to see why. There's a clear fit for Bryant in Toronto.
All signs point to Francisco Lindor's leaving Cleveland as a free agent, if he's not already traded before next winter. But why not push all chips in for 2021? This is a team that finished one game out of first place in the AL Central and wields MLB's longest World Series drought. Cleveland could move José Ramírez to second base, where free agent Cesar Hernandez played last season without an obvious replacement on the big league roster waiting (top prospect Nolan Jones may have something to say about that). Bryant could also play in left field to improve the team’s league-worst offensive production from that position in 2020. It's not a perfect fit, to be sure, but it isn't a bad one.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cubs and Cardinals haven’t executed a trade for a player with Bryant’s star power since 1938, when St. Louis sent Dizzy Dean—the 1934 NL MVP and the runner-up in '35 and '36—to Chicago, where the dead-armed Dean made just 33 starts in four seasons before retiring. The closest modern example is Bruce Sutter, who won a Cy Young for the Cubs as a reliever in 1979 before they sent him to St. Louis the next year. Since then, the teams have consummated just three trades in almost 40 years.
But there's no doubting Bryant would be a near-perfect fit at third alongside Matt Carpenter. And he’d be an even better fit if the offensively starved Cardinals ended up needing a DH. Maybe he’ll end up in St. Louis once he reaches free agency at the same time as Carpenter. But it’s still hard to imagine Bryant in Cardinal red despite the neat on-paper fit.