The Kris Bryant service time grievance has been heard, and all of baseball – literally all of baseball – waits intently for the result. It’s that important, and thus, we are kind of obsessing about it.
Whether Bryant has one year or two years of team control remaining dramatically impacts not only what the Cubs might do this offseason, but also so many other teams by way of the ripple effects. Moreover, whether Bryant’s case sets a precedent for when you can and cannot call up prospects (top prospects? how top? define “can” or “can’t”? how many days is too many? and so on) will be of enormous (financial) import to players and teams around the league for years to come.
… until the sides solve the dang problem in the next CBA, like they should have a decade ago. But whatever.
In any case, that’s just the reminder that it’s an incredibly important, incredibly far-reaching decision, and we last heard that it might take months, plural for the arbitrator to reach a decision. For the Cubs’ offseason to be almost wholly held up – and much of the rest of the league potentially held up, too – by a decision that has been in the works for four years is a frustrating specter, to say the least.
Plus, how many “months”? Just how long is this really going to be?
To that end, a modest update, which is modestly good: Patrick Mooney indicates the decision is expected by the Winter Meetings, which are held December 8-12 this year. You would like to have thought the Winter Meetings, when activity tends to really ramp up, would be the drop-dead date for a decision like this, so I guess it’s good that it seems to be the outermost barrier.
Of course, in reality, you’d want to see the decision come down MUUUUUUCH earlier so that teams could make plans accordingly, and proceed normally around the time of the Winter Meetings.
Deals take time, whether they directly involve Bryant or not, but not knowing what is going to happen with him is going to force teams around the league to live in a world of hypotheticals and back-up plans. Budgets are finite, and – for just one example – if Bryant’s trade status to a couple interested teams holds up an Anthony Rendon signing, and if Rendon’s decision is the primary thing the Nationals are waiting on, and if a few free agents and trade partners would like to talk to the Nationals, and if other teams and free agents are waiting on those teams and free agents … you see what can happen.
Hopefully the decision comes long before the Winter Meetings, which remains possible. Or hopefully – even more hopefully, actually – the Cubs and Bryant reach an amicable deal that resolves the matter. Maybe Bryant gets a nice two-year deal, covering those would-be final two years of control (and hey, he guarantees himself upwards of $50 million for two years, and the Cubs lock in cost certainty). Or maybe Bryant gets $20+ million to avoid arbitration for 2019 (higher than his projection, and netting him more in 2020, too) in exchange for dropping the case, and acceding to two years of team control.
Oh, and I suppose there’s always the slim chance the sides work out a long-term deal while the decision is pending, though I have my doubts that would happen.
The problem, I’ll admit, with those settlement options: the Players Association and Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, have a very strong interest in seeing this case come to a resolution. If there’s even a 10% chance they can win the case, the value to top young players around the game is going to be really significant. Bryant is a great player who has made a lot of money and might be perfectly content to bet on himself. And meanwhile, the Players Association (who brought the grievance on Bryant’s behalf) has a chance at a huge win while they negotiate the next CBA. Win this case, and suddenly, you’ve got a ton more leverage to get teams to agree to changes in the structure of service time, arbitration, and free agency.
Anyway, a point I don’t want to miss here: to the extent we DO see free agent/trading gridlock before the Bryant decision comes out, you can fairly say that the gridlock will probably be half attributable to legit ripple effect concerns, but about also about half attributable to the free agent ice out we’ve seen the last two years – as we’ve seen, teams generally will take any excuse to keep free agents waiting and waiting, and hoping they get desperate.
“Sorry, Nick Castellanos, we really want to engage you in talks, but we kinda need to see what happens with this Kris Bryant thing and the fallout from it before we can offer you more than the two years and $30 million we’ve already offered. You … don’t want to take that, do you? Because we would gladly do *that* deal today ….”