Kris Bryant won’t get his year back from the Cubs, but the 2016 National League MVP won’t get bitter about losing his grievance hearing against the team over service-time manipulation, either, a source close to Bryant said Wednesday after this week’s initial ruling became public.
“Kris is fine,” the source said. “[He’s] focused on his workouts and preseason prep.
“Kris harbors no ill will whatsoever.”
The arbitrator’s decision, which preserves the Cubs’ remaining two years of club control, surprised no one — least of all Bryant. He was advised from the outset that the grievance was more about trying to help the next generation of players than the likelihood of any restitution for his own losses.
The case brought by the players union was considered a long shot even though Bryant was the ideal subject to test teams’ long-standing practice of manipulating the service time of their best players to assure additional seasons of club control.
In Bryant’s case, that meant sending him back to the minors to start 2015 — despite the most productive spring training in the majors that year — and waiting 12 days after the season started to call him up for a big-league debut.
He went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award but missed qualifying for a full season of service time by one day. That meant six additional years before he would qualify for free agency.
If there was a surprise in the verdict, it was only in how long it took to be rendered after the October hearing.
The final, more detailed decision from the arbitrator, with fully edited, precise language, was expected to be filed by Friday.
MLB, union and Cubs officials were not expected to make public statements on the decision until that final filing.
One industry source said that language was expected to include MLB’s acknowledgement during the hearing and fact-finding processes that teams must operate with an obligation of good faith when applying the rules of the collective-bargaining agreement.
Whether that proves to become a significant leverage point in upcoming negotiations for the next CBA, what’s clear is that this case always has served a much larger purpose in the eyes of the union over free-agency definitions and rules.
The more immediate impact involves the certainty that this week’s decision provides in trade scenarios involving Bryant, who avoided arbitration with a one-year, $18.6 million deal earlier this month.
Team and industry sources have downplayed since November the significance of the grievance decision — and even the delay in a decision — in the ability to make a trade, if only because of the widespread belief that the Cubs and MLB would prevail.
That was still the case Wednesday even as the ruling stoked renewed rumors.
As has been the case all winter, Bryant is expected to be available throughout the spring in trade talks.
The Cubs are looking to add prospects and find a way to move salary off a payroll that’s already strained to its budget limit.