If any single prospect earned a September promotion this season, it was definitely Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs. In his first full professional season after being selected second overall in the 2013 draft, Bryant hit a minor-league best 43 homers in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A. But he wasn't just about the long ball. He also posted a .325 average to go along with a 1.098 OPS.
That's domination across the board offensively. Reports also suggest his defense at third base is up to major league standards, so one would think there's really nothing holding him back from making his major league debut and at least getting an evaluation in the big leagues.
Well, except for that nagging little service time issue that we've seen prevent prospects from getting called up recently, especially with teams focusing on two or three years down the road. By calling him up now, the Cubs would start Bryant's MLB service time, which means he would be closer to arbitration eligibility, which could prove expensive for Chicago. He'd also be one year closer to free agency, which, given his minor league production, looks like another potential healthy payday.
It's all about the money. And since Bryant's not yet eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, there's no urgency for Chicago to promote him to the 40-man roster.
According to Jesse Rogers of ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Bryant knew the Cubs didn't plan on calling him this season. However, the reasons why came as a surprise to Bryant, who admittedly wasn't up to speed on how service time works. He's learning the system quickly though, and he's also learning that baseball is a business in which business tends to come first.
“I think now more than ever, I’m realizing this game is a business, and all I can do is go out there and play as hard as I can and make it really hard on the guys in charge,” Bryant said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think I did that this year. If I’m taking that mindset, then I’m not really going to be sitting there with my head down at the end of the year.”
“It’s kind of funny, all the rules,” said Bryant. “Coming into professional baseball, I had no clue. I didn’t pay any attention to it in college, either. At the end of my first season, I kind of know the lingo about all this stuff. I guess the system works in some ways, and in some ways there are some flaws. I can’t focus on that. I’ve always been high on avoiding the distractions.”
There are definitely flaws in the system if you're a young player on the fast track, and this year more than ever those flaws are being discussed openly. It really started in spring training when it was reported that the Houston Astros elected not to call up top prospect George Springer last September after he turned down a seven-year contract.
A contract agreement would have locked in Springer's salary, which creates more certainty for Houston and eliminates concerns about service time and unpredictable arbitration salaries. It also eliminates some risk for the player, who could suffer an injury or ultimately flame out. However, most players are willing to gamble on themselves, and would rather use the arbitration system to their advantage.
Not surprisingly, that's also how their agents feel. Bryant's just so happens to be the most outspoken of the bunch: Scott Boras. On Wednesday, Boras shared his opinion on what the Cubs are doing with the Chicago Sun-Times.
“But if this is a performance-driven industry as it should be, Bryant deserves the callup, based on performance,” said Boras. “What's best for the player, what's best for the team in 2015? The goal here is trying to make the team the best it can be in 2015. And what can you do to ready him for that?”
Boras isn't wrong, even if we realize the true motivation of his opinion.
To be completely honest, the Cubs aren't wrong, either. They're just using the system to their advantage, which is wise.
That said, this is certainly another point for considering re-examining the service time system and possible manipulation of the system when the CBA comes up again in 2016.
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