Although the silence has been encouraging, the Kris Bryant service time grievance has not gone away.
We last discussed this topic about a month ago, when Kris Bryant finally spoke publicly about his grievance against the Cubs.
At the time, we found everything Bryant said to be perfectly reasonable and aligned with the expectations and role he plays within in the players union. Only a young player of his talent level and situation, you’ll note, will ever be in a position to challenge these sorts of service time issues. It’s a tough position to be in, but not one you can ding him for handling (professionally, I might add).
The story, as you’ll recall, goes like this: because Bryant was not called up by the team in 2015 until roughly two weeks into the year, he will not accumulate enough service time in his first six seasons to reach free agency at the end of 2020. Instead, the Cubs will get, what amounts to, an “extra” year of team control, and Bryant will be a free agent at the end of 2021.
The update to this story, comes not from the Cubs or Bryant himself, but from a related issue that was recently resolved in New York. As a part of his arbitration settlement earlier this winter, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada was awarded one extra day of service time, effectively pushing free agency up one full year from when it otherwise would have begun.
Like Bryant’s situation, Tejada was at one point re-called on the exact day that eventually provided the Mets one additional year of team control on his contract. With 172 days constituting a “year of service time” and six years of service time leading to free agency, Tejada was scheduled to finish 2016 with five years and 171 days of major league service time. Now, Tejada will finish the 2016 season having completed six years of service time and be eligible for free agency.
If you’re wondering why the Mets would freely give up an additional year of control just like that, don’t. There is a very specific reason. Back in 2013, Tejada was reportedly considering filing a grievance on the matter. It’s not clear whether that grievance was officially filed, but there’s no doubt it carried weight into the recent negotiations.
However, don’t take this as an indication that Bryant will definitely receive the same kind of settlement. There are some notable differences between the cases.
While it’s true that both Bryant and Tejada were called up on the exact day an extra year of team control was gained, the circumstances of each are quite different. Tejada, who had already been in the big leagues in parts of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons, was re-called to the Mets on September 10, 2013 – three days after his AAA season ended on September 7. So, instead of joining the team for the games on the 8th or 9th of September, Tejada sat idly by, for his call-up on September 10. The Mets couldn’t/can’t, then, claim he wasn’t being called up, because he was “working on something in AAA.”
Thinking back on Bryant’s situation, then, you’ll understand that things were quite a bit different. At the beginning of 2015, Tommy La Stella and Mike Olt were holding down the third base duties, while Bryant began his season at AAA Iowa. But then, both Olt and La Stella were injured a week into the season, and the Cubs needed a fill-in at third base. Of course, that fill-in was Kris Bryant and the day he filled in (the day after the Cubs got bad news on Olt’s injury) was precisely the first day that guaranteed an extra year of team control. At the time, Theo Epstein said that Bryant would still have been in Iowa if it weren’t for the multiple injuries sustained at the Major League level.
So then, we now know that granting a player an addition day of service time is possible and has precedent in cases like Bryant’s. Furthermore, we know that, although Tejada may never have officially filed one, a player grievance played a big role in the Mets’ decision.
Luckily, both Bryant and the Cubs have been relatively open and honest about the entire situation and there genuinely appear to be no hard feelings. It remains in everyone’s best interest to keep Bryant and the Cubs happy with the final decision, because I think everyone wants him to stick around as long as possible (and be appropriately compensated in that time). There is no timeline for a resolution on the grievance. It could come at any time in the near-term, or it could be held back for a little while yet.
We’ll continue to update you on this story as it shakes loose, but, for now, you can add Tejada’s extra day of service time into the mix of variables.