Not content with simply breaking the David Ross news Wednesday morning, David Kaplan tweeted out another juicy tidbit that could have implications for the Cubs and Major League Baseball in general. According to the report, the Cubs and MLB will finally be dealing with Kris Bryant’s grievance over the Cubs’ decision to manipulate his service time back in 2015.
Here's another Cubs scoop. Cubs/MLB will be dealing with Kris Bryant's grievance this week from 2015 over service time + Cubs decision to delay his MLB debut until he fell 1 day short of being a free agent after the 2020 season. Could have MLB altering implications if he wins.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) October 23, 2019
As you no doubt recall, the Cubs kept Bryant in Triple-A at the start of the 2015 season behind the guise of having him work on his defense. Opening Day starter Mike Olt suffering a fractured wrist as the result of being hit by a pitch — an injury he actually tried to play through — offered a convenient reason for the Cubs to call the eventual Rookie of the Year up. And wouldn’t you know it, his promotion fell just one day past the threshold for accruing a year of service time.
For those unfamiliar with the whole process, the super-short version of it is that a player must spend 172 days on the active roster and/or injured list in order to accrue a year of service time. Anything less than that doesn’t count as a full year, which grants that player’s team an extra year of control under the terms of his rookie contract.
It’s a little odd that the can has been kicked down the road for this long, but things have apparently become unavoidable. The same can be said for Bryant’s future based on the result of the grievance, since winning would mean he’s only got one more year of control remaining. Should that be the case, the Cubs are very much in shit-or-get-off-the-pot mode when it comes to extending or trading him.
The latter is a much more realistic possibility if he’s only got one year left and extension talks go nowhere, since the Cubs would risk losing him at the end of the coming season. At the same time, the increased urgency and the need to have marquis stars for Marquee Sports Network could give the Cubs the impetus to go big on a new contract offer.
Bryant is expected to earn about $18.5 million in arbitration, which, while not cheap by any means, is still a lot less average annual value than he’s expected to command in an extension or free agency. He’s stated in no uncertain terms that he’d “absolutely” be open to staying in Chicago should the Cubs come to him with the right deal, perhaps something along the lines of what Nolan Arenado received last year, so an extension is by no means out of the question.
Bryant understands how good he’s got it in Chicago between the big market and his legacy as one of the best players ever for a storied franchise, so he’d prefer to stay there if possible. But he also has a responsibility to his fellow players, hence the grievance. Rather than just a spiteful ploy to make the Cubs pay, this is a matter of Bryant helping to ensure that other young players aren’t held back by the “total money grab” of MLB’s service time loopholes.
As such, this grievance could have implications that run well beyond the Cubs and their contractual control of a young superstar. It could impact when and how other teams call up their other phenoms in the future, getting those players to the big leagues sooner. That would be great for folks on the South Side who want to see Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal break camp on the active roster.
Even though it’s obvious that the Cubs intentionally manipulated Bryant’s service time in order to gain an extra year of control, I find it hard to imagine them losing this one. Not because they were “right” to do what they did, but because the CBA — which expires after the 2021 season — allows for this sort of thing to go on. So it seems like it’s one of those deals where an arbitrator would just shrug and say, “Sorry, them’s the rules.”
If that happens, expect for this to one of the top points the players union seeks to change in what figure to be very contentious negotiations over the next CBA. However, if I’m wrong and Bryant wins the grievance, you can expect an even more interesting winter for the Cubs.