MESA, Ariz. – Is there any scenario where Kris Bryant could become a free agent after the 2020 season?
Union boss Tony Clark wouldn’t even acknowledge the service-time grievance Cubs officials publicly confirmed during the winter meetings. But the Major League Baseball Players Association certainly hasn’t forgotten how the National League Rookie of the Year began last season with Triple-A Iowa.
Stashing Bryant in the minors for 12 days allowed the Cubs to gain an extra year of club control over a franchise player who lived up to the hype with 26 homers and 99 RBI for a 97-win team.
“Your question would be fraught with a number of challenges,” Clark said Monday after meeting with Cubs players at Sloan Park. “However – when and if there are grievances related to Kris or anybody else on this particular issue – that is part of the conversation.
“A remedy (is) finding those days and giving those days back. And if so, how does that effect the system?
“It’s always a challenging issue. It’s a challenging concern that doesn’t have a clear answer. But the premise is still the same: How do we find a way to not have it be an issue?”
While visiting camps in Arizona and Florida, Clark said union leaders “haven’t gotten that far” yet in terms of deciding whether or not service time will become a major point in the next round of labor negotiations.
The Cubs have repeatedly stressed that they worked within the rules of a collective bargaining agreement that expires after this season, manipulating the system the way almost any other team would with a former No. 2 overall pick.
Even Clark admitted drawing a different line wouldn’t stop franchises from trying to rig service time and control elite young players for nearly seven full seasons.
Whether or not there’s a way for the union to make Bryant an exception or an example in the next labor deal, you know super-agent Scott Boras will be pushing for his client to hit the open market as soon as possible.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Bryant said. “I don’t know if I should speak on any of that, just because I’m still young. I’m still trying to figure out the process of how things work. And if that happens, that would be great.”
Bryant doesn’t view himself as a trailblazer or a unique case, preferring to blend into the clubhouse and just be one of the guys, even after an All-Star season.
Bryant hasn’t spoken with Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, who also filed a grievance after finishing two days short of the 172 days needed for a full year of service. Bryant said he has “no clue” where that process stands now.
“That’s the way I want it to be,” Bryant said. “I don’t really want to focus on it too much. I’ve always said it’s in the past. And we’ll find out in the future, I guess.”
Bryant became a huge national story at this time last year, hitting nine home runs in 14 Cactus League games and impressing everyone with the way he handled all the attention. For all the talk about Bryant needing to get into a “defensive rhythm” at third base, the Cubs only made him play seven games with Iowa before promoting him and batting him cleanup during his April 17 debut at Wrigley Field.
When the Cubs cut Bryant last March, the MLBPA released a statement saying: “Today is a bad day for baseball.”
“The fact that we were having the conversation wasn’t beneficial to the industry,” Clark said. “It makes sense to have a broader dialogue, and we’ll have to see where that goes.
“It’s not a new issue. It’s not a new concern. But in the climate that we are in (now), it seems to make a lot of sense to try to have a broader discussion about what can be done so that it is not a part of the everyday dialogue leading up to and in through a season.”
Bryant Watch isn’t over yet.