Tucked relatively quietly within a recent baseball notes update from Jon Heyman, there’s a small discussion of Kris Bryant and the service time issues you may have efforted to forget. In short, Heyman indicates that the Players Association is still considering whether to file a grievance against the Chicago Cubs for failing to bring up Bryant until a couple weeks into the season. That call-up, you may recall, came on the very first possible day it could have happened while still securing the Cubs an extra year of team control … but it also occurred only after the Cubs lost both of Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt to injury, and only after Olt’s injury was revealed to be serious.
By the time Spring Training ended, and it was clear that Bryant would not be breaking camp with the big league team, everyone – Bryant, agent Scott Boras, the Cubs front office, the Players Association, and the Commission – had their say. At the time, a grievance remained a possibility, though it’s a tough sell to substitute an arbitrator’s judgment for that of an organization, which might have any number of legitimate, baseball-oriented reasons for roster decisions (and when/how to break a youngster into the big leagues).
In late April, Heyman wrote that the possibility of a grievance was still on the table, and I wrote up some thoughts on that here. In short, it seemed unlikely for a variety of reasons. I’d still land there today. The rules governing service time have been in place for so long, and have been utilized by teams for so long, that we’ve never seen this kind of grievance filed. It’s possible that Bryant’s case represents the perfect storm for a new precedent, but trends tend to go un-bucked for so long for a reason.
You can and should read Heyman’s report from August 28 – it’s under the Chicago Cubs section – to keep abreast of the issue, but I don’t want to sound any alarm bells here. I tend to think this is more about a broader issue than about Bryant and any grievance about the Cubs, specifically.
You have to keep in mind that this is all taking place against the backdrop of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that expires after 2016, which will be negotiated heavily very soon. Even Heyman’s report is full of union-MLB back-and-forth about the service time issue.
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.
So, then, this might not be the last we hear of this issue, particularly as CBA negotiations pick up steam. That doesn’t necessarily mean a grievance is forthcoming, but “the Kris Bryant story” might become a talking point for how to deal with the free agency cut-off.