That would come in the form of the Cubs holding onto their star players like third baseman Kris Bryant to open the season and then re-evaluating the state of their team ahead of the trade deadline on July 31. If the Cubs are playing well, they could make a run with their current team. If they're playing poorly, they could then deal a star player and still get a quality return, as the trade partner would still be acquiring the help for their playoff run this season and beyond.
Bryant's name has been prevalent in trade rumors since the Winter Meetings. Before him, catcher Willson Contreras was considered a prime candidate to be traded by the Cubs. It still remains to be seen what significant move, if any, the Cubs will make this offseason.
The trade market for Bryant has been on hold for a couple reasons. The primary one is because Josh Donaldson remains unsigned, so a big domino in the third base market has yet to fall. Once Donaldson's destination is clear, the suitors for Bryant will become more clear.
Beyond that, a decision on a grievance regarding Bryant's big league service time still hasn't been announced. If Bryant wins the case, he would be in line to become a free agent after the 2020 season, but the expectation is he will lose the grievance, which would mean he remains under contract control through 2021.
The Cubs are at a crossroads of sorts as it pertains to their future. Still in their window of contention but coming off a disappointing 84-win season, they have an aging pitching rotation, with both Jon Lester and Jose Quintana set to become free agents after 2020. There's little starting pitching on the horizon in the Cubs' farm system, so the franchise would like to add young pitching in any potential trade.
Trading Bryant would mean the Cubs take a step back in 2020 but better position themselves for the years beyond that. That he has landed in trade rumors comes as no surprise to powerful agent Scott Boras, who represents Bryant.
"Great players who are within one or two years of free-agent status are always bandied about as potential trades in the marketplace," Boras said at the Winter Meetings in December. "This happens every year. Trades of these players rarely happen. Sometimes they do. But you can go back through time to those players who were in that position, an MVP-type player always get that attention."
Bryant, who turns 28 on Saturday, is a three-time All-Star who won the National League MVP award in 2016. He has hit .284 with 138 homers and a .901 OPS in his five-year MLB career.
Despite uncertainty over his future, Bryant would like to stay with the Cubs for his entire career, sources in his camp have told 670 The Score. Of course, the catch is he wants his fair value, and his price tag will be hefty. The sides have had talks about a long-term extension at various times over the past three years.
With the start of spring training looming in just more than a month, every day that passes makes it seem more likely that the Cubs won't force the issues on trading a star like Bryant. They won't make such a drastic move unless they get fair value in return, and the Cubs know they can still trade a key player come July.