Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

kris bryant iowa cubs featureChris Coghlan played the final three innings of a tight ballgame at third base last night.

Such is the state of the Chicago Cubs’ third base situation. Mike Olt is recovering from a pitch to the wrist. Tommy La Stella is dealing with an issue in his side. Welington Castillo is a third catcher on the roster.

Together, that means sometimes a guy like Coghlan is going to have to play somewhere that he’s played eight games in the big leagues … two years ago. (Nice job, by the way.)

The broader answer to the third base question, of course, might very well be top prospect Kris Bryant. The rub there is that, if the Cubs call up Bryant immediately to replace an injured player (and Bryant sticks on the roster all year – why wouldn’t he?), he’ll get a full year of service time in 2015, meaning that free agency comes after 2020. If he’s not called up until Friday, then he’d fall just short of a full year*, and the Cubs would retain his rights through 2021. You can see the awkward situation these injuries are putting the Cubs in.

When asked if the Cubs would consider calling up Bryant to replace Olt or La Stella if they went to the DL, Theo Epstein basically said it was possible, and that Bryant is very close … but there is still development to consider and getting Bryant into the “rhythm” of the season (, ESPN, Tribune).

It’s almost impossible to see the Cubs bringing up Bryant right now, and sacrificing that extra year for a mere game or two. Assuming Bryant isn’t brought up today or tomorrow, the Cubs have an off-day on Thursday before a weekend series against the Padres at Wrigley Field (the first day Bryant could come up and the Cubs still get the extra year of control). In other words, the Cubs could play with a short bench for two more days, and then bring Bryant up – maybe even a little earlier than they otherwise might have.

Now, then, a word on any conspiracy theories you might have. I don’t believe for a moment that the injuries to Olt and La Stella are not legit – I couldn’t believe Olt got into a game on Sunday and was almost going to start yesterday, and I also don’t see Joe Maddon not using Tommy La Stella for four straight games as a mere pretext, especially given how the games played out. So let’s leave any conspiracy theories at the door, even if it happens to play out that one of these guys is placed on the DL on Friday, and Bryant comes up.

That said, I still wouldn’t bet on Bryant coming up on Friday. It’s possible that at least one of Olt or La Stella is ready to go today or tomorrow, which means they’d be very ready by Friday. Further, the Cubs have other options at AAA Iowa as short-term cover if they need it – Chris Valaika or Junior Lake, for example, or even Christian Villanueva, who is at AA, but is already on the 40-man roster. (There is also Javier Baez, but he is currently on a leave of absence from AAA Iowa following the death of his sister, and he hasn’t played since late in Spring Training.)

The Cubs have shown a clear preference for debuting their youngsters on the road, which, together with the above considerations, would mean Monday night in Pittsburgh could be the first day we see Bryant called up. I’d still bet on some time during that week, as the Cubs head to Pittsburgh and then Cincinnati.

If, however, both Olt and La Stella require DL stints, and soon, well, then, maybe we do see Bryant on Friday. That is not currently my expectation.

*(There’s another factor here, as Jesse Rogers reports. If there happened to be an end-of-season tiebreaker, Rogers indicates that the regular season would be extended by a day or two, thus giving Bryant – if he were called up on Friday or Saturday – a full service year in 2015. I was not aware that the regular season, for service time purposes, was literally extended by tiebreaker games. As BN’er Hansman points out in the comments on an earlier post, the CBA’s definition of the season for service time purposes is: “Major League service will be computed commencing with the date of the first regularly scheduled championship season game, through and including the date of the last regularly scheduled championship season game.” Seems like, by that definition, a tiebreaker game – not being “regularly scheduled” – wouldn’t impact the service year. I don’t doubt that Rogers got his information from a good source, so I suspect he may be right for reasons we can’t see in the CBA language.)

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