Last week, it was widely reported that Kris Bryant’s (and, by extension, Scott Boras’) grievance against the Chicago Cubs was heard by a moderator. In case you forgot or didn’t care, the grievance is that in 2015 the Cubs intentionally manipulated Bryant’s service time by sending him to Iowa to “work on his fielding” so Cub fans could be treated to the Mike Olt Experience for six games. Bryant was called up and made his major league debut April 17, which happened to be one day after the 2015 season would not count as a year of MLB service time. Did the Cubs intentionally manipulate his service time?
By the Cubs making him stew in the sticks for three weeks, it moved back Bryant’s timetable for arbitration and free agency. Bryant has done all the right things, smiling for the cameras and doing all the cuddly PR stuff. But make no mistake, neither he nor Boras are pleased about any of this. And they should be.
But here’s the thing. If they’re angry at the Cubs, that anger is misdirected. The MLB Players Association (MLBPA), the players’ union, negotiated the service time rules with the owners. They took this to the players with the recommendation they vote for it. There’s absolutely nothing in the rules preventing teams from doing this. All you have to do is look at Toronto last year with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to see if this manipulation still exists. (SPOILER ALERT: It does)
So it’s not the fault of anybody on the Cubs that there’s this loophole in the rules for service time large enough to fly a B-52 through. But while they didn’t violate the letter of the rules, they certainly didn’t show any fealty toward the spirit of them.
So when the moderator rules on Bryant’s grievance, if he decides based on the spirit of the rule, the Cubs are boned. It’ll also open the floodgates for every other player (such as young Mr. Guerrero mentioned above) who has spent time they didn’t need to spend mangling baseballs in AAA. If he rules on the letter of the rule, the Cubs can breathe a sigh of relief.
But whichever way the wind blows here, there’s one thing that needs to happen – the Cubs should sit down with Bryant and Boras and hammer out an extension, preferably one that makes Bryant a Cub for life. After the signings last offseason of Mike Trout, Nelson Arenado, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the market for Kris Bryant is pretty much set. In fact, his Average Annual Value (AAV) should land in the same area as free agent Anthony Rendon’s, but Bryant rates a couple extra years since he’s younger and even if the moderator found in his favor he’s still not a free agent for a year.
Bryant and Boras want to get the best deal possible for Bryant. Right now the Cubs are in a position to offer that. There would be no better way for them to launch the Marquee Network that to have the sparkliest Cub signed for at least the next decade. In fact, it would be in the best interests of the Cubs to lock down more than one of their “core” guys. If they back up the Brinks truck for Javier Baez as long as they’re making it rain, that gives them two immensely popular and telegenic players that could be featured on their new network for years.
It would also be in MLB’s best interests for this extension to happen. Bryant is the Cubs’ player rep for the union (which may be the biggest reason why Bryant wouldn’t want to extend), so getting him signed could dampen the acrimony between the owners and players a bit. At this point there are two seasons left under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and it’s certainly looking like there will be a stoppage happening when it expires. And service time is looking like it’s going to be a pretty major tipping point.
So while an extension may very well be in everyone’s best interests for this to happen, Major League Baseball’s propensity for shooting itself in the foot will almost assuredly mean the worst case scenario will play out here.