Kris Bryant’s MVP Award is a reminder of the Cubs’ savvy but troubling service time manipulation

Associated Press
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Kris Bryant just won the MVP Award a year after winning the Rookie of the Year Award. You didn’t need to know that in order to know that he’s a superior talent and one of the biggest stars in baseball, but those honors are certainly the cherries on top of the sundae. In Bryant, the Cubs have one of the best players in the game.

And, as you may recall, they’ll have control over him for a full season longer than they would’ve had if they actually treated him like the talent he clearly was at the outset of the 2015 season. That was when, despite being the 2014 Minor League Player of the Year and hitting moonshot homer after moonshot homer in spring training, the Cubs assigned him to Triple-A Iowa and gave the third base job to the clearly inferior Mike Olt.

At the time Cubs executives paid lip service to the flaws in Bryant’s game — Maybe he needed some defensive seasoning? Maybe his contact rate was worrisome? — but it that was clearly baloney. The Cubs were just keeping him in the minors for a couple of extra weeks in order to buy an extra year of control over Bryant before he’d become eligible for free agency. If you doubt that, you have to believe that he mastered those allegedly lacking skills in the most convenient time possible for the Cubs: Bryant finished his rookie season with 171 days of service time while a full season of service time is 172 days. How fortuitous!

Because of those 12 extra days in Iowa — really, just because of that 12th day — Bryant will now not be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, representing almost seven full seasons of team control instead of the six that normally gives a player his professional freedom. This is obviously not great for Bryant. And he knows it. The MLBPA filed a grievance against the Chicago on his behalf alleging bad faith service time manipulation which is still pending. But it’s fantastic for the Cubs.

Bryant made $625,000 this year and his contract can be renewed at whatever salary the Cubs want for 2017. Unless the rules change in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times, before the 2018-2021 seasons. Assuming Bryant continues to be a superstar, that last arbitration year, 2021, may prove to be the most lucrative arbitration year in history, but it will still fall short of what Bryant could’ve earned on the open market as a free agent. Of course the Cubs and Bryant could very well reach a deal for a long-term contract extension well before then, but even if they do, the Cubs will have a year’s worth of leverage on Bryant in the negotiations that they would otherwise not have had. That year of team control matters no matter what happens.

No one should cry for Kris Bryant. Given his talent, he’s going to be astonishingly wealthy one way or another. But, because the Cubs were allowed, under the system, to trade 12 days in April 2015 for a full year of Kris Bryant’s prime, he’ll have to wait a bit longer and risk a bit more while he waits for that payday. And the Cubs will likely save some money and bank some time before having to pony up the big bucks to lock up their young superstar.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.