We all know the story now: By waiting a little less than two weeks to bring him to the big-league club, the Cubs would gain an extra year of control of Kris Bryant’s services. Much was made about the decision to keep Bryant down, but his eventual call-up, strong performance, and the Cubs’ brilliant season all worked to quell any drama that had been brought to the forefront.
But now things have come full circle and the Bryant service-time issues are once again in the headlines. News broke Monday afternoon that Bryant and Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco had filed grievances against their teams suggesting that their service time had been manipulated in order to delay free agency. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer had little to say on the incident at the Winter Meetings in Nashville.
“We’ve got a great relationship with Kris, we’ve got a great relationship with (agent Scott Boras), they obviously decided to file a grievance in May,” Hoyer said. “Nothing’s really changed since then, so the fact that the news came out today doesn’t really change anything about where we are. Obviously we feel like we were in the right.”
There’s a lot to deconstruct in that quote and Jeff Passan’s article linked above, so let’s take it step by step. For the Cubs and Bryant these aren’t new pieces of information, this had been rumored for a while, but the public didn’t officially know about it until Monday. The Cubs have been aware of it for nearly the entire season and still were able to put together a 97-win season with Bryant winning Rookie of the Year. Cleary neither the player not the team were distracted by this issue.
It’s also important to note that Hoyer clarified that he was unsure if Bryant and Boras filed the grievance on their own, if the MLB Player’s Association did it, or if Bryant did it on the union’s behalf. As noted in the Yahoo article linked above, other players, including George Springer and Gregory Polanco, had considered filing grievances in the past, but ultimately decided against it. It’s quite clear that this grievance didn’t stem from some bad blood from Bryant’s side towards the Cubs.
Sure, Bryant would have loved to have been on the Opening Day roster, and the fact is the Cubs, like many other teams, capitalized on a loophole that takes advantage of the player. As a fan of the Cubs you may approve of this maneuver because it keeps a supremely talented player in Cubbie Blue for an extra year, and the Cubs are certainly smart to ensure that Bryant is around for as long as possible. And when Hoyer says he believes the Cubs were ‘in the right,’ he’s likely suggesting that they were well within the rules to do what they did. And the fact is they were. Yes, we all know that Bryant was kept in Triple-A for a couple weeks so the Cubs could get an extra year of control, but unless the MLBPA can find concrete evidence—as in text messages, emails, any sort of legitimate documentation—of that, then it’s going to be hard for them to win this grievance*.
But if you really want to get down to the heart of what’s ‘right,’ here’s the deal, when we approve of what’s happening in this case and all others like it, what we’re really supporting are billionaire owners saving a few million dollars for themselves while keeping it out of the pockets of the players who are the ones doing the lion’s share of the work. While some may be perfectly okay with that, I’m not. Yes, relative to what majority of us make, player’s salaries are eye-popping. But if it comes down to the players or owners getting richer, I want the stars of the game—the ones who are entertaining all of us for 162 games a year and helping bring in record revenues for MLB—to be making as much as possible.
But I digress, the bottom line here is that the MLBPA has been trying to gain leverage with regards to this topic for some time now, and with the CBA set to expire a year from now, they’re positioning to make this a big point of contention during renegotiations. This is one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory playing in a huge market on one of the league’s most visible franchises. He’s a smart kid with great makeup and talent to match; one who plays well with the media and instantly won over every fan who watched him play—or just admired him from across the way. Who better to have as the poster boy for this issue than Kris Bryant?
The big picture here—how teams manipulate player’s service time—is certainly a point of contention between the league and the players and how it’s resolved (or perhaps if it’s resolved is more accurate) over the next year bears watching. But as for this specific case and worries over whether there’s been a breakdown in the relationship between the Cubs front office and Bryant, that should be of no concern.
“Our relationship with him never wavered for a minute throughout this process,” Hoyer said after showering Bryant with praise for the maturity and poise he showed during the 2015 season. “If that was the case, that would be something we’d be concerned about. But it hasn’t, we love having him, we’re going to have him for a long time and we’re excited about it.”
Cubs’ fans can go back to refreshing twitter for the latest trade rumors; there’s no need to wonder if Bryant is happy in Chicago. This isn’t a Bryant vs. Cubs issue, it’s an MLBPA vs. owners issue. The third baseman with the gleaming blue eyes and sparkling smile is going to be around for another six years, and if Hoyer and company get their way, a lot longer than that.
*As some have pointed out, service time manipulation may not technically even be against the rules, but in all likelihood the MLBPA would then argue it violates the “spirit” of the rule. Either way, the grievance and it’s possible resolution are not really of consequence here, this is all about leverage for the next round of CBA negotiations.
Lead photo courtesy of Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports