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Kris Bryant on service time manipulation: ‘It’s funny how obvious it can be’

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Third baseman Kris Bryant quickly made his way through the Cubs’ minor league system after being drafted second overall in 2013, but it wasn’t quick enough. In the latter half of 2013, he ascended from rookie ball to High-A, then ran roughshod over both Double-A and Triple-A pitching in 2014 while being rated one of baseball’s best prospects. In 2014, he hit a combined .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs and 110 RBI in the minors. Surely good enough to merit a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster in 2015, right?

Even though Bryant had a ridiculous spring, batting .425 with nine home runs and 15 RBI in just 40 at-bats, the Cubs sent him to Triple-A to start the 2015 season. He was promoted on April 17, just in time for the Cubs to have secured an extra year of control, effectively manipulating his service time. The Cubs claimed he needed work on his defense. Bryant went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Bryant and Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco filed grievances against their respective teams during the offseason, but players almost never win these grievances because definitively proving malfeasance is difficult.

Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic caught up with Bryant to talk about baseball’s service time manipulation problem. Bryant said, “It’s awful. So awful. It’s going to happen this year and it happens every year. I could understand it if you go out and have a rough spring training where you don’t look ready. But there’s certain people who put the time and the effort into the offseason so that they do show up to spring training and they prove that they’re ready to go. I feel like you should be rewarded for that.” Bryant added that teams are “finding a loophole in the system.” He laughed about the whole thing, saying, “It’s funny how obvious it can be.”

Sharma points out that the Cubs were even grimier than they appeared. On April 14, 2015, Mike Olt — handling third base in Bryant’s stead — left a game with a thumb injury. Bryant was called up on the 17th, which was when it was also revealed that Olt suffered a broken hand. Doctors don’t need two days to look at X-rays. In the one game the Cubs played between Olt’s injury and Bryant’s promotion, Arismendy Alcantara handled third base, a position he never played regularly in the minors. Bryant was in New Orleans at the time, which is about a two-hour plane ride away from Chicago, as the Cubs were in the midst of a homestand. It wasn’t even logistically difficult to get Bryant to Chicago.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Eloy Jiménez are three of baseball’s elite prospects. They are, by all accounts, ready for the majors, but they are expected to begin the year in the minors until their teams officially gain that extra year of control over them, delaying their foray into free agency by one year. Bryant said, “I think they’re going to do it to [Guerrero, Jr.]. ‘Oh, he’s gotta work on his defense.’ Stuff like that. But now I can look back on it and just laugh about it because I was told to work on my defense too and I think I got three groundballs in those games that I played. So it’s like, ‘Oh, now he’s ready.’”

Bryant said, “When the new CBA came out, I wasn’t really paying attention to much of this. But now that the situation has changed and you see how free agency has gone, it’s impossible to not put your attention into that. It would be nice if we could hammer some of these things out before we get to 2021.” Service time manipulation won’t be addressed until MLB owners and the union agree on a new collective bargaining agreement following the 2021 season. Bryant is part of a growing contingent of players to have publicly expressed displeasure with the way teams are going about roster construction lately, potentially foreshadowing a contentious next two years.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 13, Pirates 0: The scores of the last five games the Nationals have played: 13-0, 16-8, 15-14, 2-1, 17-7. Which of these doesn’t belong?

Heh, trick question. All but the 2-1 score don’t belong because the rest are football scores that, however fun they may be in isolation, are the products of the sort of breakdown of baseball aesthetics which I ranted about yesterday. I mean, I guess there’s something in every game for everyone, but at some point these conga-line-around-the-base-paths games become dreary as hell, yes?

At least this one had some pitching from one of the teams, as four Washington pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout. But even then it was the equivalent of a bullpen game, with the starter, Joe Ross, only going three and a third innings thanks to being hit with a comebacker. So you didn’t even get the benefit of a traditionally nice starting pitching performance. Oh well. Asdrúbal Cabrera homered and drove in five runs. Adam Eaton, Matt Adams and Trea Turner went deep for the Nats as well. Juan Soto reached base five times. Someone missed an extra point along the way. Whatever. These are kinda fun games when they’re rare, but when they happen every night you can have ’em.

Royals 5, Orioles 4: Nicky Lopez and Nick Dini hit back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches in the seventh inning to turn a one-run game into a three-run game. By virtue of a late O’s comeback that fell short, those dingers proved to be essential game-winners. Guess you could say they hit those . . . in the nick of time?

[Ed: You could say that, but I’d really prefer you didn’t]

Who’s that talking?

[Ed: It’s me, your editor]

But I don’t have an editor. I thought that was fairly obvious.

[Ed: Just go back to recapping, Craig]

Um . . . OK. That’s eight straight losses for the Orioles. We need a ten-game series between them and the Pirates right now.

Mariners 9, Rays 3: The M’s jumped all over Brendan McKay, scoring seven off of him — though only three earned — in the first two innings. After the game he was optioned back to Durham, so no, not a great night for the kid. He’ll be back, though. He’s too talented not to be. Tom Murphy homered twice and drove in four for Seattle and Austin Nola also went deep and drove in three.

Padres 3, Reds 2: The starting pitching matchup was Trevor Bauer vs. Eric Lauer — Bauer vs. Lauer! — so that’s fun. Neither pitched poorly — Bauer bounced back from his nightmare start against the Nats last week, allowing three over seven and striking out 11 — but Bauer took the loss. Lauer allowed only one run over four and the Pads bullpen only surrendered one more over five. Francisco Mejía homered for San Diego. Manny Machado had an RBI single, which makes him 10-for-15 in his career off Bauer with four homers, two doubles and six RBI. He owns Bauer so thoroughly that he’ll have to give permission to whatever team tries to sign him when he hits free agency after next season. The Reds mounted a ninth inning rally against Kirby Yates, loading the bases and getting three hits, but he got out of it having allowed only one run to cross the plate.

Cardinals 3, Brewers 0: Dakota Hudson took a no-hitter into the seventh but was lifted when he reached 111 pitches and started to get into some trouble. The Cardinals bullpen carried the no-no on into the eighth, but Yasmani Grandal broke it up with a double. It happens. Still, St. Louis got the shutout — a one-hitter — and that’s pretty sweet. Paul DeJong homered for the Cards, who have won eight of ten and hold a half game lead over Chicago.

Rangers 8, Angels 7: The Angels held a 7-1 lead after two innings but would not score again. A Rougned Odor RBI single in the eighth tied things up and forced extras and then Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a chopper that turned into a walkoff infield single, scoring Jose Trevino for the win. Trevino homered earlier. Hunter Pence had three hits and reached base five times. Shohei Ohtani had a big night for L.A. in a losing cause, hitting an RBI triple, reaching base four times and scoring twice.

Astros 5, Tigers 4: Yuli Gurriel had two hits and drove in two as the Astros jumped out to an early lead and then held on despite allowing scads of Tiger baserunners. Fourteen hits for Detroit, in fact. Like strikes in bowling, however, bunching hits up is sometimes more important than the number you have.

White Sox 6, Twins 4: José Abreu hit a three-run homer in the Sox’ four-run third inning while Ivan Nova allowed only two runs over six despite giving up ten hits. Apart from that homer, Kyle Gibson pitched well for the Twins. Let’s check in on both starters’ assessments of their nights. First Gibson:

“In this case, I picked the wrong time to not execute a pitch. When I look back at how many pitches I executed and where my stuff was, it’s one of those weird nights where I felt like I threw the ball pretty well and unfortunately got beat by the wrong guy at the wrong time.”

Now Nova:

“This was one of the best games I pitched the whole year. Guys might say, `Why?’ The way that I was throwing the first two innings it felt like I didn’t have my best stuff. I was able to get to the sixth and only give up two runs. They got 10 hits, and to be able to keep them to two runs with a lineup like this it’s a lot of hard work.”

Baseball be like that sometimes.

Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 3: Carson Kelly — which sounds more like the name of a Pac-10 quarterback than a big league catcher, but we’ll let that go for now — hit a tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning which was followed by a two-run triple by David Peralta to help the Snakes rally for three and the win. Kelly now has 18 homers on the season. Seven INTs, though, and we got what looks to be a trap game against Oregon State next week. Can’t look past them to Oregon or U-Dub, not when you’re playing in Corvallis. These conference games all matter, Jim. There are no patsies.

[Ed: Who’s Jim? And are you feeling OK?]

God, it’s nice not to have an editor.