There was plenty of talk last spring about Kris Bryant's demotion to Triple-A Iowa after he dominated spring training by hitting .425/.477/1.175 (no, that's not a misprint, that's a SLG of 1.175). He was 17-for-40 with nine home runs.
Even though Theo Epstein and his baseball brass said that the demotion was for "baseball reasons," it seemed evident that at least one reason for doing it was to keep Bryant in the minor leagues long enough so that the Cubs would get one extra year of team control. Bryant wound up being called up for "baseball reasons," when Mike Olt hit the disabled list after suffering a broken hand. Turned out that was one day after the Cubs got that one extra year of team control.
Much of this was forgotten during the Cubs' great year. But now, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports, Bryant (and also the Phillies' Maikel Franco) is filing a grievance regarding how the service-time issue was handled:
Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco have filed grievances against their teams alleging they were kept in the minor leagues unnecessarily and had their service time manipulated to delay future free agency, multiple major league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Potential service-time manipulation looms as a significant issue with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association ramping up discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement after the current one expires Dec. 1, 2016. While neither case has yet to reach an arbitration panel, according to sources, the grievances indicate that players believe teams have not abided by the intention of service-time rules and operated in bad faith.
According to the article, Bryant's grievance was filed last April, presumably not long after he was called up. Eight months later, the grievance has yet to be heard by an arbitrator.
Passan goes on to note:
Neither Cubs president Theo Epstein, nor Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, replied to requests for comment from Yahoo Sports. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak declined to comment.
The ultimate question for arbitrator Fredric Horowitz would concern whether teams acted in good faith, a thorny threshold that could prove difficult to demonstrate. The Bryant and Franco cases certainly aren’t outliers. Multiple other players considered filing grievances, sources told Yahoo Sports, including Houston Astros outfielder George Springer and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco.
Look, we all know the charade that the current collective-bargaining agreement forces teams to go through in this sort of thing because of the way it allocates service time. Obviously the player would like to get to free agency earlier and the team would like to keep the player longer, so the compromise struck created this system, which is... a pretty bad one, in my opinion. It doesn't really make anyone happy. In this case the Cubs got what they wanted -- the extra year -- but in doing so they clearly didn't make Bryant (nor his agent) happy. Obviously, it didn't hurt Bryant's performance on the field at all, as he won the Rookie of the Year award and finished 11th in National League MVP voting.
It will be interesting to see what's ruled in this case and what, if any, penalty is assessed against the Cubs if Horowitz rules against them. (My guess: he won't, for reasons as noted by Passan above, that the threshold of "good faith" is too hard to prove.)
One thing is for sure: both sides have good reason to see this system changed in the next CBA.
If you were creating a system like this, how would you do it?