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:
Here's another Cubs scoop. Cubs/MLB will be dealing with Kris Bryant's grievance this week from 2015 over service time + Cubs decision to delay his MLB debut until he fell 1 day short of being a free agent after the 2020 season. Could have MLB altering implications if he wins.— David Kaplan (@thekapman) October 23, 2019
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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