How the West Got Fun: Giants Add Kris Bryant for Stretch Run

The NL West has been a slugging match all year. The Giants have the best record in baseball. The Dodgers are hot on their heels and just added two All-Stars to go for the division title, with the Padres in hot pursuit. San Francisco wasn’t going to take that lying down, though. As Jeff Passan first reported, the team has acquired Kris Bryant from the Cubs in exchange for two prospects, Alexander Canario and Caleb Kilian.

Bryant has been a hotly rumored deadline chip for seemingly forever; as soon as the Cubs hit a rough patch in the standings, they announced their intentions to sell off pieces that weren’t controllable past 2021, with him, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Báez the obvious candidates for a move. All three have now been dealt to contenders, and for my money, Bryant is the best player of the three. He’ll slot into San Francisco’s roster all over the place, one of the perks of trading for him; he plays all four corner spots capably and has even started 10 games in center as the Cubs dealt with injury and ineptitude in the outfield. He’s not going to win a Gold Glove out there anytime soon — and the less said about his two innings at shortstop, the better — but if you’re looking to squeeze Bryant’s bat into the lineup, there are any number of possibilities.

That bat is the reason San Francisco made this trade. Rumors of Bryant’s demise were greatly exaggerated; he had an absolutely abysmal 2020, playing in only 34 games and compiling easily the worst line of his career, but he’s been back to his old tricks in 2021. That game is power and walks, and it’s worked to the tune of a .267/.358/.503 slash line, an on-base-light approximation of his career line.

I’m not going to waste a ton of space discussing the reason for Bryant’s resurgence this year; Dan Szymborski and I have plenty for you to read if you want to go down that particular rabbit hole. The gist of it is that he’s gotten better at hitting high fastballs, a pitch that caused him no end of trouble last year. That, and a season without nagging injuries, have helped him turn back the clock, and it couldn’t have come at a better time with free agency looming after the season.

In San Francisco, Bryant would be an upgrade in any of several positions. Wilmer Flores has done yeoman’s work playing across the infield, but he’d make more sense as a sometimes first baseman than playing the hot corner, Bryant’s natural position. That would move LaMonte Wade Jr. to an outfield corner or Donovan Solano to the bench if the team thinks Flores can handle second base. It also gives San Francisco far more flexibility against lefties; Wade, Alex Dickerson, and Steven Duggar are all platoon bats, and some of their replacements are sketchy at best. In all, that upgrade will likely be worth at least a win over the remainder of the season, and every win counts in the cutthroat West.

If and when Evan Longoria returns, things will get more complicated, but not in a bad way. Having to work out where to plug in an impact hitter who can play multiple positions is a great problem to have. Before this trade, we projected the Giants for the eighth-worst runs per game; even accounting for their park, that leaves plenty of room for improvement. That hasn’t matched reality so far — they’ve scored the eighth-most runs per game — and adding talent is an excellent way to fight the regression monster. A core hitting group of Bryant, Buster Posey, Mike Yastrzemski, Longoria, and a rejuvenated Brandon Crawford is a fair sight better than what the Giants have been running out there most of the year.

As an added bonus, the Giants made this trade without dealing from the very top of their system. Canario, the higher-ranked of the two prospects, is a boom-bust type, both in-game and in terms of his risk profile for the Cubs. He has all the tools you love to see in a young, bat-first outfielder: tremendous bat speed, which he gets from his natural strength, and a hellacious swing that translate into thumping raw power. That violent swing leads to plenty of swing-and-miss, though, and he’s made hard contact less consistently than you’d like to see, even though his approach at the plate has improved. His line in A ball has been disappointing, and the strikeouts will definitely be a limiting factor. Defensively, he looks like a fit for right field; he’s an average runner with a plus arm.

Kilian wasn’t ranked on our Giants list, but he’s the kind of pitcher the Cubs have increasingly targeted in trade. He’s a righty with a low-90s fastball and three average secondaries: a cutter, a curve, and a changeup. Scouts aren’t blown away by his stuff, but he throws a lot of strikes and mixes pitches well. He’s looked awesome in Double-A this year; a 26.2% strikeout rate and 3.3% walk rate will play anywhere, and he’s given up only two homers in 60-plus innings. Chicago loves command-first pitchers, and Kilian fits that bill exactly. Will he have the stuff to survive in the majors? Who knows! The Cubs will likely find out, though, either this September or next year.

Viewed in relation to the other trades for impact talent from this week, I think the Giants did well here. The Mets gave up a similar amount to get Baez and Trevor Williams, and I’d rather have Bryant. I’d also rather have Pete Crow-Armstrong than Canario, particularly if I were selling everything that wasn’t nailed down the way Chicago has done. The Giants are also in the perfect position to add hitters; they have several lineup spots that could use reinforcement and are starting from ahead in the playoff race, so they aren’t sending prospects for a one-in-ten shot at a Wild Card spot or anything silly like that.

Given all the trade pyrotechnics from earlier, the Giants were looking at Bryant or nothing, and with the Dodgers powering up so much and Báez, Rizzo, and Joey Gallo already moved, he was the last impact bat remaining. Doing nothing as your closest competitor loads the boat wasn’t really an option, and given that, the fact that San Francisco added a premium hitter without giving up a king’s ransom (some outlets had Canario at the back end of the team’s top 10) is quite the coup.

I’m not sure the Giants are likely suitors for Bryant in free agency, but that wasn’t the point of this deal. Two months of slugging in a tight division race was the point, and I don’t think they could have done any better for the price. The Cubs, meanwhile, had to move Bryant somewhere, and San Francisco clearly had prospects they were interested in. Maybe they didn’t get quite the dynamic haul that fans hoped for, but it’s a solid return for an expiring contract — just another way that keeping Bryant down an extra few weeks in 2015 to squeeze an extra year of team control out has paid off.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

When I saw what Rizzo, Baez, Kimbrel, and even Marisnick got, I was pretty nervous, but it’s pretty impressive that considering all of this, the Giants got Bryant for just Canario & Kilian.

I’d imagine Zaidi waited for some leverage to come down. The Cubs had no reason, at 4PM (EST) to hold onto Bryant, and they’d get nothing more than a pick in the third round if they QO’d him. The Giants did well here.

Zaidi continues to show he doesn’t panic when his rivals make big moves. What a trade for him.

2 years ago
Reply to  natedub

I think the Giants got Bryant for quite a bit less than the Mets gave up for Baez. This was a really good deal for the Giants. Canario is an interesting prospect but he’s very risky. I think Pete Crow-Armstrong is a much better prospect.

I agree, this was a really solid move for them.