CINCINNATI – The Kris Bryant service-time saga isn’t over.
Whether the players’ union eventually files a grievance on the Cub rookie’s behalf – and that’s still in play, according to sources – the issue is certain to be raised during upcoming negotiations on a new labor contract, say several close to the union, including Cubs’ player rep Jake Arrieta.
As for a potential grievance, nothing is imminent, and Bryant said he hasn’t been contacted by the union about any possible action. His agent, Scott Boras, has said repeatedly, including this week in Pittsburgh, that the filing of any grievance up to the union.
“They’re entitled to do what they’re supposed to do,” Bryant said Friday. “I’m not worried about the stuff off the field. I’m here to help the team win now. They’re there to do a job, and I’m here to do a job.”
He said he doesn’t know what he would say if the union called to ask for his consent or blessing to seek a grievance over the 12 days he spent in the minors to start the season – a move that assures club control for an additional year (through 2021) before he would be eligible for free agency.
Not even union members and officials believe such a grievance would necessarily succeed.
In fact, it’s never been tried over what has become a routine industry practice of manipulating early-career service time to prevent an extra year of arbitration-eligibility for a player or assure the club an additional year of control.
Union officials declined comment Friday. When Bryant was sent out of big-league camp in March, the union released a statement blasting the move and threatening litigation.
“I think they’re just maybe spinning their wheels a little bit,” said Arrieta, another Scott Boras client, who had his service-time clock backed up twice to avoid Super 2 status – by both the Orioles and the Cubs. “The rules are the rules. The team has the ability to do that based on what we agreed upon. I think that’s the extent of it right there.”
The union would need to establish a laundry list of “evidence” to demonstrate the Cubs violated some kind of intent or spirit of the rules in their decision to start Bryant in the minors despite arguably the best spring performance of any hitter in baseball this spring – such as the timing of Mike Olt’s DL move, the fact they made the rare move to bat Bryant cleanup since Day 1 in the majors, the fact their rationale of needing work in the field was mitigated by their willingness to play him in center field (twice) for the first time in pro ball.
And even then, the language in the collective bargaining agreement would seem to clearly cover the actions.
“Regardless of the reasons, that’s all hearsay really,” Arrieta said. “There’s no way to prove that really, by any means. And I don’t necessarily think anything really needs to be proven.”
Ultimately, the rules are the rules. And in the end, that’s the obvious bigger point to all the posturing.
According to several conversations with people familiar with the union’s thinking, such an unprecedented grievance could be used in part as a way to keep the issue in the forefront as CBA talks begin in the next year. The current agreement expires at the end of 2016.
“I think it’ll be brought to the table for sure,” Arrieta said. “For me, you want your 25 best players on the field. And that should be the determining factor.”
When the Sun-Times asked baseball commissioner Rob Manfred about the Bryant issue during an Associated Press Sports Editors event Thursday, he didn’t pretend the Cubs’ decision was anything but a service-time issue – and made it clear MLB’s position is that such rights are ironclad.
“The Cubs acted in a way that was completely consistent with their rights under the agreement,” Manfred said. “Moreover, it is my view having been involved in multiple rounds of collective bargaining where this was discussed that everyone on our side of the table and their side of the table understood that we negotiated a system that was seniority-based and has lines in it that alter the rights of the parties. Whenever you have a seniority-based system with lines, people are going to manage around those lines.”
Boras said he believes one solution to the issue would be to appoint a panel of “unbiased” evaluators (ex-managers, scouts, players, etc.) to decide the rare cases when a potentially deserving player is denied a big-league debut on the opening roster.
Of course, that has less of a chance at success on its face than a Bryant grievance.
“I don’t know the best way to go about doing that,” Bryant said, “but I do think something should change in the next CBA. … But I don’t really care to speak on that anymore. That’s in the past.”