Cubs

Kris Bryant's grievance that could change the entire landscape of the Cubs franchise and MLB

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AP

Kris Bryant's grievance that could change the entire landscape of the Cubs franchise and MLB

David Ross' hiring is not the only Cubs bombshell that dropped Wednesday morning.

NBC Sports' David Kaplan also reported the shocking news that Kris Bryant's future with the Cubs might be in doubt.

According to Kap, Bryant's grievance case with MLB Players Association over his service time from back in 2015 will be heard this week and next. If the arbiter sides in favor of Bryant, he would become a free agent after this next season (2020) rather than in two years, which is currently the course of action:

As you might recall, Bryant was called up to make his big-league debut on April 17, 2015 — just one day after the service time threshold. Had he been called up a day prior, Bryant would have received a full year of MLB service time in 2015 and thus would be a free agent after this coming season (2020).

Instead, the Cubs kept him in the minors long enough to control his 2021 season, as well — a move that proved to be exactly the right call from a team perspective. But that decision five years ago was not good for Bryant personally, as he'd be much better off hitting the free agent market next year as a 28-year-old and trying to secure a life-changing contract.

This hearing could have far-reaching implications that would change the landscape of the entire Cubs franchise and all of baseball. If Bryant wins, other players around the league could retroactively argue the same case and potentially earn free agency a year earlier.

For the Cubs, this arbiter could change the course of history for the organization. One year of Bryant vs. two might be the difference in whether or not Theo Epstein's front office decides to trade him this winter.

The Cubs have always viewed their window of contention to run through at least the 2021 season in large part because of the years of team control they held on Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez that currently expires after that season. But as the roster stands right now coming off an October of sitting on the couch instead of playing in the postseason, there are a lot of holes to fill and it wouldn't necessarily be prudent for Epstein and Co. to go all-in for 2020 at the expense of the future. If that's the case and Bryant wins this service time hearing, it might make the most sense for the Cubs to trade him away now rather than risk losing him to free agency next winter.

Of course, there's also the extension aspect of this whole situation. The Cubs are going to try to lock Bryant up long-term, but given he's a Scott Boras client, it seems more likely he would hit the open market than take any sort of discount to stay in his current home. But if the Cubs came to Bryant with a fair offer — something we discussed on the recent CubsTalk Podcast — that would have to be done with a lot more urgency if Bryant wins this case and now has only a year left before free agency.

Even though Bryant might have a strong case, it's still hard to see him winning here. The MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement states the rules for big-league service time and according to those rules, the Cubs did absolutely nothing wrong. What they did was smart from an organizational sense, even if it wasn't in the best interest of Bryant personally.

The timing of this all — Bryant being called up only one day after the service time threshold — is a bad look, of course, but the Cubs also framed it back then that Bryant needed to work on his defense in the minor leagues and was called up to the majors because their Opening Day third baseman, Mike Olt, had suffered a wrist injury.

Unless Bryant can prove the Cubs only kept him in the minors to gain an extra year of team control, he likely doesn't win this case. 

But it's still a very important wrinkle added to an already-interesting Cubs offseason. 

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Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto