Cubs third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant has lost his service-time manipulation grievance against the team, meaning that he won’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the news on Wednesday morning:
BREAKING: Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has lost his grievance against the team seeking an extra year of service, sources familiar with the ruling tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 29, 2020
News story at @espn: https://t.co/07lx6NUttj
Bryant, who just turned 28 years old, argued that the Cubs kept him in the minors until two weeks after Opening Day in 2015 in an explicit attempt to gain another year of control over him, as opposed to president Theo Epstein’s argument that he was sent down because the pressure of debuting on Opening Day was unfair to a talented rookie like Bryant. Considering that Bryant ended up being an All-Star and winning the NL Rookie of the Year that season and has since reached two more All-Star Games and won an NL MVP award, it sure seemed like Bryant had a valid point, but alas he won’t get his way, as an MLB arbitrator finally ruled against him more than four years after the grievance was initially filed.
The most pressing element to this ruling is that it now clarifies Bryant’s trade value for other teams — and it’ll be greater since he has two years of club control remaining. There have been rumors all offseason that the Cubs are hoping to trade Bryant, who recently signed a one-year, $18.6 million deal to avoid arbitration, in a bid to make sure they stay under the dreaded luxury-tax threshold. If they’re still interested in doing so, they can now dive headfirst into trade talks, with teams like the Nationals, Braves, Phillies, and Dodgers likely being the most logical suitors.
As far as the more long-term ramifications of this ruling, it sets a more hardened precedent than there already was for MLB teams, letting them know that they can manipulate prospects’ service time to their hearts’ desire without penalty. While some teams have already begun to get around this issue in recent years by signing prospects with little or no MLB experience to long-term deals that buy out free-agent years, the rule will continue to be a problem for talented prospects playing for organizations that are willing to be a little worse in the short term in order to perhaps gain some extra value in the long term.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this issue is solved in MLB’s next collective bargaining agreement. While it’s obviously an extremely controversial issue, it may be lower down Tony Clark’s list of priorities considering that his biggest focus is likely going to be making sure that veteran players are able to get paid in free agency. While that process may involve trying to reduce the amount of service time before reaching free agency or making sure that arbitration-eligible players are entitled to more money, it’s not a given that it will include new rules to make sure that prospects aren’t punished by the system. And after all, Clark still needs to prove that he’s capable of negotiating a CBA that serves the players’ best interests, considering that he more or less gave the owners exactly what they wanted while negotiating the agreement currently in place.