Recently, we discussed a report that the Chicago Cubs’ front office had engaged in extension talks with their young talent this offseason. That’s the good, even if wholly and completely expected, news. The bad news is that those talks did not produce any extensions. Given that pre-arbitration extensions are the exception rather than the norm, not getting any deals done was probably also expected.
And all of that is extremely true for Kris Bryant, in particular, as the reigning MVP, former Rookie of the Year, and all around superstar seems by far the least likely of the Cubs’ youngsters to sign away any free agent years at this time. He’s already made some serious money in his career, from his $6+ million signing bonus to his endorsement deals to his record pre-arbitration $1.05 million salary for this season. He’s also poised to be the kind of game-changing player whose salary similarly changes the game for so many others in the Players Association.
Against that backdrop, then, you shouldn’t be too disappointed to hear what Bryant had to say about the current prospects for an extension.
“I guess it’s a little early,” Bryant told the Sun-Times of a possible extension. “I still feel super-young. I’m still getting used to all of this playing at this level. I’ll listen to whatever they have to say, but I just think that it might be in my best interest to just play it out and see where things go.”
The Sun-Times piece goes on to note that Bryant has a history of appreciating having incentives in front of him to chase, which would obviously make the prospect of a mega-long-term guaranteed extension less appealing to him than most. And, hey, if he wants to play it year to year and then go into free agency, Bryant has earned – and will continue to earn – that right.
A long-term deal that eats into Bryant’s free agency years remains unlikely, at least not until he gets much closer to those free agent years (which will begin after 2021 … or 2020, depending on the resolution of his still-pending grievance). By that point, the market will have continue to re-establish itself, Bryant will also have continued to establish himself, and maybe the two sides can better get on the same page.
In the interim, I would like to see extension talks continue, even if not netting the Cubs any free agent years. In the new era of much more consequential luxury tax penalties, there’s a great deal of value to organizations in having future years of cost control planned out far in advance.
By inking Bryant to a deal that covers some or all of his arbitration years, not only would the Cubs know how that will impact future budgeting with greater certainty than the arbitration process can provide, but they would also be able to spread the average annual value of the agreement over several years, lightening the luxury tax load in 2019-20-21, when so many of the teams’ player salaries are going to escalate rapidly.
Whatever happens with his grievance, Bryant will qualify for arbitration next year as a Super Two player. That will necessarily lead to some negotiations, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Cubs tried to get a deal done that covers those four arbitration years (ending the grievance in the process).