I’m not really in the business of ripping on the work of other writers, so I hope you don’t take this as that. But there’s a problem in a widely-circulated MLB.com piece about why the Cubs have to have Kris Bryant on the Opening Day roster in 2015, and I don’t want any of you to be ill-informed about the distinction between delaying a call-up to gain an extra year of control, and delaying a call-up to avoid Super Two status and save money in arbitration. They are entirely different things, each subject to its own timeline, and each with a different purpose.
The troubling part about the article, which is otherwise an acceptable piece on Kris Bryant’s potential awesomeness and the coming Cubs, is the predicate for its argument that Bryant must be on the Opening Day roster. There is an acknowledgement that keeping him in the minors a couple weeks gives the Cubs an extra year of team control, followed by a discussion of holding him down until June to avoid Super Two status* … which is then the sole reason given in the piece for why Bryant has to be on the Opening Day roster (i.e., because June is too long to wait, and the Cubs might be competitive). If you find that a little confusing, you should. The article explicitly states that a couple weeks in the minors would give the Cubs the extra year of control, and then that possibility is completely ignored to set up the false choice of (paraphrased) “keep him down for several months and save a little bit of money, or do the right thing and put him on the Opening Day roster.”
Those are not the only two options, and it’s not fair to the Cubs or to Bryant to ignore the vast chasm of possible call-up dates between Opening Day and June.
In anticipation of articles like that one – and, believe me, there will be an avalanche of them by the time Spring Training opens – I wrote about how long the Cubs have to keep Bryant down to secure that extra year of control, and did a little math on how missing those 9 games (yup, that’s it) isn’t going to derail the Cubs’ 2015 season.
No one is saying the Cubs should keep Bryant down several months to avoid Super Two status. That’s an entirely separate matter, and if Bryant looks as ready to go as he looked last year, I’d be fairly annoyed if the Cubs waited that long. Here, the question is solely whether it’s worth keeping Bryant down for 9 games (or a little more, depending on logistical/practical/developmental things) in 2015 in order to get an entire extra year (162 games) of control in 2021. Should anyone argue that it isn’t, I’ll just keep posting the link to my earlier piece. That’s why I wrote it.
None of that is to say that there are absolutely no reasons for Bryant to break camp with the big league club. I can think of two plausible ones: (1) for some reason, the Cubs believe Bryant’s development would be harmed by sending him to AAA for a couple weeks to open the year (seems highly unlikely, but borderline plausible); and (2) the Cubs make a strategic choice to give Bryant the full service year in 2015 for relationship purposes, perhaps hoping it will help with negotiations down the road. If Bryant makes the Opening Day roster, you can bet that number two was the reason, despite what anyone might say.
Furthermore, none of that is to say that there are no reasons for Bryant to head to the minors to open the year outside of his service time. For example, there could be positional reasons (maybe he needs game action in the outfield), developmental reasons (maybe the Cubs are trying to close a hole in his swing, and want to see him get game action with it before exposing him to big league pitching), or roster reasons (maybe the Cubs have a 40-man crunch at the end of Spring Training and want a little flexibility before having to add Bryant).
In sum: Kris Bryant is awesome, and will probably be awesome in the big leagues. Maybe he’ll start the season at the big league level, but that’s unlikely. If he doesn’t, you can expect that – assuming he’s healthy and looks ready – Bryant will be up at some point after a couple weeks (because getting that extra year of control is hugely important), but long before the Super Two cut-off arrives (because saving money in arbitration is less important). And that’s all just fine.
*(For those who are unfamiliar with these concepts, the previous Bryant piece ably explains the extra year of control. “Super Two” refers to the group of players who qualify for an extra year of arbitration – in short, they get four turns at arbitration (so they make more money) rather than the customary three. There’s a pretty good explanation of Super Two in this 2012 piece about Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson (something something reminder about fickle nature of prospects).)