Remember in April of 2015 when the Cubs made the decision that Kris Bryant had not made the opening day roster? It was perhaps the most blatant case of service time manipulation the league has seen to date. Bryant would make his Major League debut on the 17th of that month, eight games into the season. This was just late enough into the season to retain Bryant for seven seasons, rather than six. This eventually turned into a formal grievance filed by Bryant, who sought to be a free agent following the 2020 season. Shortly before COVID-19 delayed the MLB season, it was announced that Bryant had lost his grievance, and would not hit free agency until after the 2021 season.
Well, that time has finally come for Bryant to finally be a free agent. Delaying his free agency may have been a blessing in disguise for the former Golden Spikes Award winner. Bryant only played in 34 of the 60 games in the 2020 season, and he did not perform like himself. He managed just four home runs while slashing a dismal .206/.293/.351/.644, good for a 73 OPS+. In 2021, Bryant rebounded significantly at the plate, slashing .265/.353/.481/.835 (124 OPS+).
While it may be unrealistic to expect Bryant to return to his MVP-caliber play we saw in 2016, he did manage to put any doubts teams may have had about his offense to rest. Furthermore, 2021 allowed him to fully demonstrate his defensive versatility. After playing just four games in the outfield in 2020, Bryant spent more than 60% of his time this year in the outfield after being a primary third baseman his entire career. This ability to not only play all three outfield positions but to play them well, massively increases both his value and his number of potential suitors.
As is usually the case, the most obvious suitor is his former team, the Giants. There was a report earlier in the off-season that the Giants were not very impressed by Bryant during his tenure there, but how accurate this report was is questionable. The Giants have plenty of pending free agents (DeSclafani, Gausman), and while they will surely be in contact with all of them, it is difficult to imagine they would be able to retain all of them. Given the amount of moving pieces with their roster, Bryant would be able to move around to whatever area becomes the greatest need once the roster is set. With Evan Longoria under contract for one more season (and a team option for 2023), Bryant would likely spend most of his time in the outfield, at least in the early stages of the contract.
The Mets have been discussed as a logical landing spot. Their current internal options between third and outfield include JD Davis, Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, and Khalil Lee. While this group has a lot of upside, they have shown to be far from a sure thing in recent years. Supplementing this group, particularly with someone with Bryant’s diverse skill set would be a terrific first move for whoever ends up running the club. The Mariners are another fit. Kyle Seager is a free agent and seems unlikely to return to the team he has called home for 11 seasons.
Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.