It seems like eons ago that Kris Bryant was a rookie. It was eons plus about two and a half weeks ago, however, when he began the 2015 season in Triple-A despite the fact that there was every single reason to believe that he was major league ready to start the season and no reason to believe that he needed more time in the minors.
The Cubs placed him in the minors for 19 days to start that season because if they had left him down there 18 days or fewer he would’ve become eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. If his service time clock had begun on April 16, 2015, he’d be entering his walk year next spring. Since his service time clock began on April 17, he will not become a free agent until the 2021-22 offseason.
At the time the Cubs, laughably, claimed that Bryant needed more work on his defense and, instead, began the 2015 campaign with the immortal Mike Olt as their starting third baseman. Everyone knew the defense excuse was not true. But hey, major league clubs have complete and total power over such things and only offer up thin lies like that because they feel like “no comments” are rude or something. Besides, they’ve gotten away with service time manipulation for years, so why wouldn’t they get away with this example, even if it was particularly obvious and egregious.
After the 2015 season Bryant filed a grievance, claiming that the Cubs acted in bad faith in keeping him in the minors. We heard nothing about it after that and I just sort of assumed that it had failed or been withdrawn or something.
I have no idea what the procedural history of this all is and why it has take four years for it to finally get heard. I also have no idea what Bryant’s chances are of it succeeding. I was skeptical that he had a chance a the time he filed it — the CBA does not put any limits on a team’s ability to keep a guy in the minors — but in the past few years I’ve had occasional conversations with people involved in MLB labor who said I was too skeptical. There could be, they say, a finding of bad faith here that could cause the arbitrator to grant Bryant an extra year of service time. The Cubs were so transparent about it, after all. I suppose we’ll see soon.
If Bryant does win, though, it will not merely be a big deal for him and the Cubs. It could be a big deal for every other prospect who was held down for service time manipulation. And there have been a lot of them over the past several years.