Although more common after the flip of the calendar, it’s not at all unusual for teams to engage in extension talks with their arbitration-eligible players.
You’re going to be negotiating on a contract for the next year anyway, why not take each other’s temperature on a longer deal? I fully expect the Cubs to see what’s up with a few of their arbitration-eligible players this offseason, including – and perhaps especially – Javy Baez.
But what about Kris Bryant? There were rumors and reports last year that the Cubs were willing to approach or exceed $200 million in an extension offer to Bryant, but – like all the other times the sides had considered a deal – nothing ultimately happened. With two years left before free agency, it’s not as if an extension is an urgent matter, but it’s certainly something that’ll be on each side’s mind as the Cubs think about what happens to the organization after 2021, and as Bryant thinks about how his performance and health the next two years could impact his looming payday.
Of course, the huge wrench in all of that – and it’s been at least a mild wrench all along – is the pending service time grievance over Bryant’s original call-up. That grievance, in which the Players Association essentially alleges that Bryant’s call-up was delayed for no other reason than to preserve an extra year of team control, is being heard this week – I have lots and lots of thoughts on that here.
Mark Gonzales adds a little more context to the situation, including a mention that perhaps an outgrowth of this process could be renewed extension talks:
A source confirmed Wednesday that Bryant is alleging the Cubs in 2015 manipulated his potential free agency.
The decision could have immediate ramifications for the Cubs, who likely will try to reach a long-term deal with the third baseman.https://t.co/IMxVRU9Lju
— Chicago Tribune Sports (@ChicagoSports) October 24, 2019
Specifically, from Gonzales’ perspective, if the Cubs were to lose the grievance, making Bryant a free agent after next season, the team might immediately have to scramble to try to lock him up to a long-term deal.
I think that’s certainly possible – the urgency would obviously ratchet up from the team’s perspective – but it’s also possible that being just a year away from free agency will make Bryant even less interested in an extension. Moreover, it’s possible that losing the grievance might finally settle things in such a way that extension talks can proceed a little more aggressively, with Bryant now knowing that he’s two years away from free agency, when he’ll be 30.
My gut says these issues are not going to be all that connected when the grievance is complete. I do think it’s possible that the sides are negotiating on a deal as we speak – to avoid the grievance at the last moment – but I don’t think it would be a long-term deal. Instead, I think it’s more likely it would be a generous 2020 contract (in exchange for dropping the grievance), or a generous two-year contract to obviate the need for the grievance altogether.
If that kind of deal doesn’t happen and the grievance proceeds, then I think either way it comes down, the Cubs are likely to listen to suitors for Bryant this offseason. I’m not saying a trade is likely (and I don’t even necessarily think it’s more or less likely either way the grievance goes), but as the Cubs look to fundamentally remake the roster while staying competitive, there aren’t going to be too many guys they won’t seriously listen on, and there are plenty of teams out there that might prefer the two-year impact at third base Bryant could provide over signing Anthony Rendon to a monster contract.
Let’s see what happens with the grievance, and then we can recalibrate everything from there. *Maybe* the process will somehow lend itself to extension talks between the sides – before or after – but I am not necessarily optimistic on that front.