Sport Opinion: Years after Cubs' manipulation, Kris Bryant saga shows need for MLB overhaul

08:01  02 december  2020
08:01  02 december  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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More than four years after Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant filed a grievance against his team over manipulation of service time, an arbitrator ruled last week that the Cubs sufficiently complied with the collective bargaining agreement in keeping Bryant in the minor leagues at the start of the 2015

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One day from now, the Chicago Cubs will decide whether to harvest that seventh season they essentially stole from Kris Bryant.

One year from now, Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement will expire.

It’s not hard to see how the first date is inextricably tied to the second.

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Bryant, who turns 29 next month, has a baseball résumé to die for: 2015 National League Rookie of the Year, 2016 NL MVP, 2016 World Series champion, the man who nearly stumbled over in joy before throwing the ball across the diamond to end the Cubs’ 108-year title drought.

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Daily Recap: Kris Bryant slugged a two-run shot and a grand slam in Clayton Richard's first start since 2013, resulting in a 7-2 Cubs win MLB .com features a stable of club beat reporters and award-winning national columnists, the largest contingent of baseball reporters under one roof, who deliver

After achieving six " years " of service, a player can then file for free agency after the season. Bryant , who has four years and 171 days of service, is scheduled to become a Remember, the Cubs sent Bryant to the minors until the ninth game of their season, claiming he needed to work on his defense.

a baseball player holding a bat: Kris Bryant made his MLB debut in 2015. © Patrick Gorski, USA TODAY Sports Kris Bryant made his MLB debut in 2015.

Now, though, he’s just a line item on a balance sheet, and the grim example of how baseball, in its zeal for efficiency and saving dimes while raking in dollars, manages to screw over both its players and the game itself.

Bryant made a pro-rated $18.6 million in the shortened 2020 season and is due about the same money this season, his last in arbitration before free agency. After an All-Star campaign in 2019, Bryant was banged up and played poorly in pandemic ball, producing a career-worst .634 OPS in 34 games.

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And though the Cubs are expected to tender Bryant a contract, there’s a chance they could simply cut him loose, which is absolutely within their rights, but also a nauseating twist of irony given what happened on the front end of Bryant’s career.

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The Official Site of Major League Baseball . Later in the game, the Cubs got some more breathing room in the form of a two-run homer from Kris Bryant that cleared the right-center-field wall and landed in the pool.

If you’ll recall, Bryant, already 22, made a mockery of minor-league pitching in 2014, slamming 43 home runs with a 1.098 OPS over 138 games split between Class AA and AAA.

Cubs fans, starved for hope after an ugly rebuild, begged for him to be promoted. He stayed in the minors.

They clamored for a September call-up, a traditionally fitting reward for a dominant year, and a preview of what’s to come.

Bryant was sent home.

By next April, a team on the cusp of contention had a future All-Star more than major league ready, an agent braying for his client to be justly rewarded, a fan base ready to embrace a new hero.

Bryant was sent back to the minor leagues.

Eight games into the season, Bryant was summoned from Class AAA Iowa, his “rough edges” magically smoothed over and the absurd tango of manager and management claiming he’s not yet ready for the bigs finally over.

We all know why: The eight games Bryant missed ensured he would not receive a full year of service time, delaying his free agency from right this minute to after the 2021 season.

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Yet, look at the “asset” the Cubs now have on their hands at the cost of ethics and dignity: A player virtually untradeable after a poor season, one who probably doesn’t fit in their long-term plans, and one who put on a wonderfully charismatic face for the franchise while knowing deep down what his team did to him.

Was it worth it?

Consider this: The 2015 Cubs finished three games out of first place, claimed the second wild-card spot, then got one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever from Jake Arrieta to move on. They beat the Cardinals in the NL Division Series before the Mets ended their run in the NLCS.

Bryant, of course, was an instant All-Star, slugging 26 homers in 151 games. Had he joined the club from Opening Day, maybe they make up the three games on St. Louis and win the division. Maybe Arrieta’s bullets expended in the wild-card game get them over the top in the NLCS.

A year later, Bryant would be an MVP and the Cubs would get their World Series. Yet the notion they’d risk deferring a dynasty while failing to do what’s right by player and team remains astounding.

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Not to pick on the Cubs, of course. Service-time suppression is a sport within the sport, with some factions of the media practically egging it on in the name of smarts and efficiency. Certain teams raise it almost to an art form by dangling below-market long-term deals to players in exchange for an immediate shot at the majors, a tactic dating to Evan Longoria in 2008 to George Springer in 2013 and into the present.

Have you enjoyed watching White Sox outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert the past two seasons? Well, they broke with the big club on Opening Day only because they agreed to contracts that tied them to the club for up to eight years.

Here’s a simpler concept: Bring budding superstars to the majors when they’re ready.

In 2019, the Padres and Mets brought some much-needed fresh air to the game when they decided to shelve service-time considerations and pencil Fernando Tatis Jr. and Pete Alonso into their lineups from the season’s first pitch.

How did that work out? Alonso slugged a rookie-record 53 home runs, won the Home Run Derby and powered the Mets into contention. Tatis produced a .969 OPS, dazzled with his play at shortstop and, like Alonso, quickly became one of the game’s most charismatic and recognizable stars.

Young players are coming up to the majors better prepared than ever; sports science has advanced to the point that we know if a player is ready, you’re far better off harvesting their best years in the early 20s rather than on the wrong side of 27. Beyond simply doing the right thing, tossing them into the fray when they’re actually ready makes even more competitive sense than ever.

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Not that it stops teams from sticking it to young players.

Even in pandemic ball, teams paused the clocks of potential stars, as the Phillies’ Alec Bohm, the Orioles’ Ryan Mountcastle and Blue Jays starNate Pearson all saw their 2020 debuts slow played. In 2021, we’ll almost certainly see the same thing from Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman.

Young players are so prepared for the move, it breeds an almost Stockholm syndrome mindset.

“Bringing me up right after the service-time date brings up a lot of speculation,” Pearson said on the eve of his major league debut, which happened, yes, eight games into the season. “But at the end of the day, it’s a business move. I want the Blue Jays to be successful, and they’re just doing what’s best for the organization and I can’t take that personally.”

He may feel differently a couple years down the line. Just ask Bryant.

“That feels so long ago, it’s crazy now,” Bryant told USA TODAY Sports in 2018, the winter when the market turned its back on veteran players. “But this offseason has kind of brought (those feelings) out a bit more. I said at the time (service time suppression) should probably be addressed in the next CBA – but who knows if it will.

“The best players should be on the field. That’s always been my opinion. That stuff’s way in the past, and we moved on from it, but I did experience it.”

The time to address it has arrived. But how?

Bryant filed a grievance against the Cubs over his service-time issue and lost the case, proving the futility of the process. Determining whether a player is “ready” will continue to be a highly subjective process, even if the next CBA produces some sort of bipartisan tribunal tasked with that determination.

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Perhaps the only meaningful way to deal with the problem is to shave the service time necessary for free agency from six to five years, an issue that may provide the fission for what many expect will be a nuclear winter for baseball one year from now.

Yet cutting down service time is the only way to ensure the next Bryants reach free agency after a true six seasons, not 6.999.

MLB’s contraction of the minor leagues will likely push many players toward collegiate ball. Perhaps a compromise could be struck in which college draftees could be granted free agency after five years, ensuring the Bryants of the world a fair crack at a big payday before they turn 30.

Either way, it’s time for the gloves to come off.

“I do see some big changes in the next CBA – stuff that we’ll have to fight for,” Bryant said before his fourth season. “I do know that I’d love to be more involved, because a couple years ago, I’m just coming up and trying to get a hold on things.”

He knows better now. Hopefully, so does an industry that has suppressed its brightest young stars for too long.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Years after Cubs' manipulation, Kris Bryant saga shows need for MLB overhaul

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