To say that service time issues are the elephant in the room when it comes to top Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant would be an understatement. It is an elephant, eating a llama, wearing a gold and white dress. Everyone sees it, fights about it, and obsesses over it.
Such is the nature of MLB’s service time rules when you’re talking about a player with enormous long-term potential, and who isn’t likely to be shuttled up and down between the minors and big leagues for a few years, thus obscuring any service time concerns.
I don’t love talking about it. It makes me feel icky. Yes, I do enjoy poring over the mechanics of service time and roster issues, but I don’t like when my interests as a fan of a team (make sure you get the extra year of control!) butt up against my interests as an empathetic person (let the kid earn as much money as he can!), which, in turn, butts up against my desire to offer you dispassionate analysis.
But, as I said, it’s the elephant. So we must discuss it. If you have questions about service time issues in the Bryant context, this post should thoroughly explain it all. And if you still need more, there was an extensive follow-up in December.
Short version? Bryant is probably going to be a stud in the big leagues, maybe as soon as this year. The Cubs are hoping to compete in the NL Central, definitely as soon as this year. If Bryant starts the season in the big leagues, and stays there, he’ll be a free agent after the 2020 season, when he is entering his age 29 season. If Bryant is in the minor leagues for a few weeks to start the season, he can’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season. That, then is the basis for the fundamental – and fundamentally awkward – conversation:
Is having Bryant on the roster for a few weeks this April worth sacrificing an entire year of team control in 2021?
Complicating that question is the fact that teams cannot hold players down in the minor leagues, artificially, entirely for the purpose of delaying their service time. Who enforces that rule? The Major League Baseball Players Association.
Enter MLBPA President Tony Clark, who today told Mark Gonzales that the MLBPA will “pay very close attention” to Bryant’s situation. You can read Gonzales’s piece at the Tribune for more of Clark’s comments, and for more background on the Cubs and service time issues.
The upshot? It’s no surprise that the MLBPA will be paying attention to a high-profile case like Bryant’s, and no one will be caught off guard by that revelation. It remains highly unlikely that Bryant breaks camp with the big league team, and, if he doesn’t, there will be a reason given that has nothing to do with service time. This is the reality of the situation, whatever you may think about it’s fairness or utility. Everyone involved is a professional, and they know the score.
In the meantime, if the MLBPA is watching really closely, they’ll see Bryant hitting some Spring Training bombs.