DENVER – Could there be a Kris Bryant Rule in the next collective bargaining agreement? It’s become a hot-button issue for the Major League Baseball Players Association, which on some level only has itself to blame.
At least that’s how St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva sees it as an ex-Cub who’s on the union’s executive board, part of the team that helped negotiate the labor deal that will expire after the 2016 season.
The Cubs crossed off another day on their Triple-A Iowa service-time calendar as Bryant went 3-for-4 with three RBI and his first home run this season during Saturday’s 13-0 win over Memphis. By keeping Bryant in the minors for at least 12 days – only five more to go – the Cubs can delay his free agency for another year, until after the 2021 season.
“I’m a union guy,” Villanueva said. “We signed that contract. That language in the contract – the team has the liberty to do what they want when it comes to that. We don’t have to like it. And if we don’t like it, next time we sit at the bargaining table, we have to do something about it.”
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Bryant technically isn’t even a member of the union yet. But when the Cubs sent Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect down to minor-league camp on March 30, the MLBPA released a statement saying: “Today is a bad day for baseball.”
Super-agent Scott Boras also helped blow this up into a huge national story. As Bryant said, he’d rather have a bulldog working for him instead of a poodle.
“You hear the speech,” Villanueva said. “You hear we want to take north the best 25 players. I haven’t been around him that much, (but) I saw what he can do last year, and I have to believe that he is one of the best 25.
“If I’m an owner of a team, if I’m a GM, and the rules permit me to have a guy for an extra year at less money, it’s a business decision. And I would probably do the same thing. At the end of the year, can you say, ‘Well, we didn’t make the playoffs by one or two games, could he (have made) a difference in it?’ Maybe. We don’t have a crystal ball to know.
“They know they’re going to have him for a long time and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be real good.
“Of course, as a fan, I want to see him. I’m probably not as upset as everybody else. But from a business point of view, we drew it up. We both agreed to it. We signed it. And they’re within their rights to do what they’re doing.”
Villanueva is so popular in the Cubs clubhouse that players still wear T-shirts with his face on the front and his quotes on the back. He is also a strong bilingual voice inside the union, someone who always tries to see the big picture.
Stay tuned to see if the service-time calculus stays the same under the next collective bargaining agreement – or if there’s a variable that changes the entire Bryant equation.
“I can’t give you an angry quote,” Villanueva said. “I hate that it is what it is, but there’s nothing that prohibits the team right now, aside from making fans maybe angry or other players upset. They really shouldn’t care. Because if he does come up, and he starts raking, and they win, nobody’s going to remember it.
“Boras is going to remember it. He’s not going to get paid as much, maybe. But it’s not the first time that something like this has happened, and it’s not going to be the last. If we don’t like it…then we have to do something about it when we sit at the table. And I’m pretty sure we will.”