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Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant knows he should have been on the Cubs’ opening day roster in 2015. Bryant came into spring training ready and obliterated pitchers. He still found himself in Triple-A to start the season.
Bryant is aware of why he was sent down despite hitting .425 with nine home runs that spring: Service-time manipulation.
The 27-year-old Bryant spoke out against that strategy Monday, telling Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic that service-time manipulation is “awful.”
“It’s awful,” Bryant said. “So awful. It’s going to happen this year and it happens every year. I could understand it if you go out and have a rough spring training where you don’t look ready. But there’s certain people who put the time and the effort into the offseason so that they do show up to spring training and they prove that they’re ready to go. I feel like you should be rewarded for that.”
“They’re finding a loophole in the system,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t make it right. It kind of seems like the easy way out rather than showing someone that we’re going to reward what you’ve done in spring and what you’ve done in the offseason. ‘Here you go, you get Opening Day.’ That’d be pretty cool.”
When Bryant says “it’s going to happen this year,” he’s talking about Toronto Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Both players enter spring training as two of the best prospects in the game. Everyone knows neither will open the season in the majors.
That’s because those teams are incentivized to keep those players in the minors for a few weeks in order to gain an extra season of control years down the road. Once players reach the majors, teams control their rights for six years.
Major League Baseball counts one year of service as 172 days on a major-league roster. A typical MLB season is around 187 days. So if teams hold players in the minors long enough to ensure those players won’t reach 172 days of service, they will control the rights to that player for an additional season.
Everyone knows teams utilize this strategy. Problem is, front offices can’t admit they are intentionally manipulating service time. That’s why you see standout prospects go to the minors to work on their “defense.” That’s just code for “we need to keep this guy in the minors long enough to manipulate his service time.”
By creating excuses, teams technically aren’t breaking any rules. But as Bryant pointed out, that doesn’t make it right. Service-time manipulation incentivizes teams from fielding their best possible roster at the beginning of the season and strips fans of the opportunity to see their team’s best young players as soon as possible. It’s legal, but it’s also bad for the game.
Bryant admitted the slow free-agent periods have him paying more attention to labor issues now. While he acknowledged there are some things that need to change, Bryant seemed optimistic the players and owners could come together on a “logical solution” when the time comes.
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