I posted much of what you’re about to read in the comments in Cub Tracks Sunday, then realized I’d pretty much written an entire article there regarding the sequence of events leading to Kris Bryant’s callup to the major leagues on April 17, 2015 — the very day on which the Cubs gained an extra year of control over him, per provisions in the MLB/MLBPA collective-bargaining agreement. So, here’s your full article.
It’s the delay of 12 days past Opening Day 2015 for Bryant’s callup that prompted him and the MLBPA to file a grievance. The Cubs had sent him to Triple-A Iowa supposedly to work on his fielding — this after he hit .425/.477/1.175 (17-for-40, 1.652 OPS!) with nine home runs in 14 Cactus League games (and another homer in a “B” game where official statistics were not kept). If the Cactus League had an MVP award, he’d have won it that year.
This was viewed even at the time as somewhat disingenous. The MLBPA issued the following statement:
Today is a bad day for baseball. We all know that if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our great game, and perhaps he will be before it’s all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.
In December 2015, the MLBPA began that litigation by filing a grievance on behalf of Bryant.
Here’s the timeline of what happened from the day Bryant was sent to Iowa.
Mike Olt, who had produced a decent spring training himself — .271/.386/.542 (13-for-48) with three home runs — was named the Opening Day third baseman. Olt started three of the Cubs’ first four games at third base.
In the ninth inning of that fourth game, Saturday, April 11 against the Rockies in Denver, Olt was hit in the wrist by a pitch by Adam Ottavino [VIDEO].
That looks... extremely painful. Olt, who had homered earlier in the game (as it turned out, his only homer as a Cub), left for pinch-runner Jonathan Herrera, who stayed in the game at third base in the bottom of the ninth.
After the game:
Here’s what happened over the following 10 days.
Sunday, April 12: Olt didn’t start in this game against the Rockies. Herrera played third base that afternoon. Olt pinch-hit in the top of the ninth inning and struck out. He stayed in the game to play third base, but did not have a defensive chance in the bottom of the ninth. The Cubs won the game 6-5 on Dexter Fowler’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth.
Monday, April 13: The Cubs returned home to face the Reds at Wrigley Field. Olt did not play at all. Herrera started and played third base for the entire game. The Cubs won the game 7-6 in 10 innings.
Tuesday, April 14: Herrera again started the game at third base. Olt batted for him in the bottom of the eighth and strikes out. He stayed in the game at third base and had one chance, a ground ball, handled flawlessly. He batted again in bottom of the ninth and struck out to end the game. The Cubs lost this game 3-2.
Wednesday, April 15: Arismendy Alcantara started at third base and played the entire game. Olt did not play at all. The Cubs won the game 5-0 and they had that 5-0 lead by the fourth inning and Travis Wood had thrown seven shutout innings, so they could probably argue that Olt was not needed in that game.
Thursday, April 16: Off day.
Friday, April 17: Olt is placed on the disabled list with what is termed a “hairline fracture in his right wrist.” Bryant is called up. His contract was “selected,” KB was not on the 40-man roster until this day. No one was removed from the 40-man on that date, per the Cubs transaction list for April 2015. Bryant started and played the entire game against the Padres, which the Cubs lost 5-4. In the game, KB struck out three times in four at-bats and handled eight chances in the field (six assists, two putouts) without incident.
Tuesday, April 21: Olt was placed on the 60-day DL, thus removing him from the 40-man roster. That move was made to make room on the 40-man roster for Addison Russell, whose contract was selected that day.
Olt did not play for the Cubs again. He was sent on rehab assignment to Double-A Tennessee on June 19. Then his rehab assignment was transferred to Triple-A Iowa on June 23. As you probably know, there is a time limit for players on rehab assignment, so in order to keep him at Iowa, the Cubs optioned Olt there on July 10. He played there through August 29. Two days later he was designated for assignment to make room for Austin Jackson on the 40-man roster. Olt was claimed on waivers by the White Sox September 5.
On the one hand (so to speak), the Cubs kept Olt active for five days after he was hit by that pitch in Denver. They could argue he was “day-to-day” and they were hoping the wrist would heal. He did bat and play the field after the injury, although in just two of the four games during that span, and didn’t start any of them.
On the other hand… there was a convenient open 40-man spot, no one had to be removed to make room for Bryant.
I suspect the Cubs are going to win this arbitration, but there’s a fair amount of evidence in the other direction.