Amid the excitement that accompanied his debut and subsequent success, and after the tediousness with which the story was pursued in the Spring, we let the Kris Bryant service time story fall off the radar for the past week or so. That was fine by me. Everyone played their part earlier this year, and everyone said what they wanted to say, and that was that.
Except it wasn’t quite that until a final decision on whether Kris Bryant, Scott Boras, and/or the MLB Players Association was going to file a grievance against the Chicago Cubs, claiming that the team did not act in good faith when it sent Bryant to the minor leagues to start the season, the timing of which allowed the Cubs to secure an extra year of team control over Bryant. For their part, the Cubs have always claimed the decision was development/baseball-oriented, and, on the plain facts of it, the decision was permissible under the CBA. It would be a tough grievance to win.
Bringing a grievance at this point, then, seems pretty unlikely. But it’s still not out of the question, according to a new report from Jon Heyman.
Although neither the Cubs nor Scott Boras would comment for his story, Heyman hears that the MLBPA may soon reach out to Bryant to see if he wants them to file a grievance on his behalf. Heyman also hears, however, from a Cubs-connected source that the “notion of a grievance [is] ‘laughable'”.
You can read Heyman’s full report for the issues at hand and how Bryant’s case could be a first attempt to get the current system more seriously examined. (There’s a bonus note at the bottom about the Cubs’ other uncomfortable, ongoing, non-baseball issue – the Joe Maddon tampering investigation.) It’s a tricky position for Bryant to be in, given that he’s not going to want to rock the boat as a rookie with his new team, but, if he feels he’s been mistreated, he may want the ability to seek recourse.
For my part, I think a grievance here would be very difficult to win in the current, collectively-bargained system, even if I understand why a player like Bryant might be frustrated to have to wait an additional year for free agency. If he were to win a grievance, Bryant would get service time credit back to the start of the year, and would reach free agency after 2020, rather than 2021.
We’ll see if anything comes of this. My best guess is that, even if there is a grievance, what we’re mostly seeing is the MLBPA taking up an issue – a legitimate, and important issue – for the purposes of the new CBA negotiations. Bryant’s case can be the example of why something needs to be done to change the system, even if actually winning a grievance is not going to be in the cards.
As for what that change could be, it’ll be a tricky thing to negotiate – it seems like there has to be a cut-off for free agency at some point, and, as long as there’s a cut-off and teams have discretion, you’re going to have the potential for shenanigans. Boras has suggested that MLB implement a panel of experts for making call-up decisions, which was an idea that has not been well-received.