NASHVILLE — Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Maikel Franco of the Phillies have filed grievances alleging service-time manipulation. Passan notes that Bryant finished his rookie season with 171 days of service time and Franco finished with 170. A full season of service time is 172, which means that the free agency clocks for each player has been pushed back a year.
The upshot of the grievances are that the Cubs and Phillies acted in bad faith in making decisions when to call up Bryant and Franco, respectively. In Bryant’s case it’s pretty clear that’s what the Cubs were doing. Indeed, it was much-discussed last spring following his destruction of spring training pitching and his clear superiority over Mike Olt, who began the season as the Cubs’ third baseman. Franco’s case received less attention, but it was telling that the Phillies waited several days after sending Cody Asche to the minors to call Franco up. The delay certainly wasn’t because they didn’t need Franco’s services.
It does not seem like Bryant and Franco have much of a shot at winning, however. Service time rules are pretty cut and dry: days and years are all that matter. There is no intent factor specified and baseball arbitrations are such that arbitrators tend to be quite loathe to wade into complicated decisions regarding a club’s baseball judgment. If a clear rule is violated, sure. But when it comes to the matter of player readiness there are a million different factors in play, most of which depend on baseball expertise for which a arbitrator is not likely to substitute his judgment. Even if it’s clear what was really going on.
As I wrote last spring, filing a grievance in this case seems more aimed at P.R., not righting an actual wrong, both because of that legal calculation and because, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs do have the power to do what they want with their players. These cases may raise issues in advance of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, but they’re not likely to be winners.
Which, sure, sometimes you want to make a public point and if that’s what the union wants, great. If you know baseball labor history, however, you know that Marvin Miller and Don Fehr didn’t give much thought to making public points. They concentrated on picking their battles carefully and winning them. If it was a battle they could not win in the present, they laid the groundwork to win it in the future via negotiation and consensus building within the union.
That’s not a tack the current union seems all that interested in taking. As was the case with PEDs, they seem more concerned with public perception than they used to be. In this case, however, winning is going to take the union looking within and convincing membership to do more to protect the rights of pre-arbitration and pre-free agency players than they do now, not fighting losing battles.