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.

AP Source: RHP Eflin agrees to $40 million deal with Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin has agreed to join the Tampa Bay Rays on a three-year, $40 million contract that’s the largest the club has ever awarded in free agency, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.

The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity Thursday night because the agreement was subject to a successful physical and had not been announced.

Eflin, who spent portions of seven seasons with the Phillies, will join a rotation that includes All-Star lefty Shane McClanahan and right-handers Tyler Glasnow and Drew Rasmussen with the Rays, who will pay him $11 million in 2023, $11 million in 2024 and $18 million in 2025.

The 28-year-old right-hander began last season as a starter and later worked out of the bullpen for the NL champions, going 3-5 with a 4.04 ERA in 20 appearances. Overall, he has a 36-45 career record with a 4.49 ERA over 127 games, including 115 starts.

He appeared in 10 games as a reliever during Philadelphia’s postseason run this year, going 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA over 10 2/3 innings.

The $40 million commitment to Eflin is the largest the budget-minded Rays have made to a free agent, surpassing the five-year, $35 million contract pitcher Wilson Alvarez signed in 1998, and the two-year, $30 million deal right-hander Charlie Morton received in 2019.