Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MLBPA threatens litigation over Kris Bryant demotion

So, the Cubs assigned third baseman Kris Bryant to their minor league camp on Monday.

You can't say the 23-year-old prospect didn't make a strong case to be included on the Cubs' 25-man roster to start the season. He hit .425 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats this spring.

We've talked about the service time rules before on this blog, but just to review, if Bryant spends 12 or more days in the minor leagues this season, the Cubs would delay him from becoming eligible for free agency by one year, until after the 2021 season, according to baseball's collective bargaining agreement. If the team keeps him on the roster for all of this season, he would be eligible for free agency one year sooner, after the 2020 season.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, as expected, was not happy with the Cubs' decision.

'"Today is a bad day for baseball,'' the union said in a statement. ''I think we all know that even if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our game, and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.''

Whoa, timeout here. Litigation? Seriously?

This is the part where I think the union is out of line. The rules for service time were collectively bargained, and the union signed off on them. The union can sue the Cubs or MLB if it wishes, but I don't think it will take long for that lawsuit to be thrown out of court.

If the union is unhappy with the service time rules, maybe it should bring that up in the next CBA negotiations. But with the rules that are in place right now, the Cubs are clearly within their rights to send Bryant down to the minor leagues. The question here isn't whether the Cubs can do this. They can. The question is whether they should.

From a purely business perspective, it's the right move. The Cubs can bring Bryant to the majors 12 days into the season and not cost themselves that year of control in 2021. Barring weather issues, the Cubs will play just nine games in those first 12 days of the 2015 season. If you're the club, would you rather have Bryant for the first nine games of 2015? Or would you rather have him for 162 games in 2021?

That's a no-brainer. Anyone would take the 162 games in 2021. But that's just from the business perspective. I don't think you can just ignore the baseball side of things and just make a pure business decision.

On the baseball side, the Cubs are running the risk of alienating their own players by sending Bryant down. In any workplace, employees don't like it when decisions are based upon something other than merit. It's no different with a baseball team. This move by the Cubs no doubt pisses off Bryant and his agent, but it probably pisses off some other players, too.

Think about it. If you're a prospect in the Cubs organization and Bryant is one of your peers, what are you thinking today? I'd be thinking, "Damn, that dude did everything right. He earned his shot, and they still didn't give it to him. Is that going to happen to me? How is the organization going to treat me when my time comes?"

Or, what if you're a veteran player on the Cubs? Say you're Anthony Rizzo or Jon Lester or Miguel Montero, and you're listening to Joe Maddon talk about how the team has "very high expectations" and "expects to win."

OK, that's good, it's Major League Baseball, and your manager should say he expects to win. But then you look over at third base and you see Mike Olt standing there instead of Bryant. If I'm a veteran Cubs player, I'm looking at Olt and saying, "If we expect to win, then what the hell is that guy still doing here?"

The idea that the Cubs are better positioned to win with Olt at third base instead of Bryant is complete fiction. It's not even an argument. Everyone knows it. The Cubs players aren't stupid. They know it, too. I'd be frustrated if I was in their spikes. A team that has "very high expectations" doesn't put Olt in its everyday lineup to start the year when there's a better option available.

That's the risk the Cubs are running here. Is sending Bryant down a sound business decision? Yes, no question, but it sure is a maddening one when looked at from a pure baseball perspective.

1 comment:

  1. The thing about the business part of it -- and why nobody admits to it being a business decision -- is that the cutoff for service time isn't meant to be manipulated in this way.

    Most of the time the baseball reasons are at least plausible enough that it doesn't draw this kind of ire. Like the White Sox wanting Carlos Rodon to work on his changeup and get more than a partial year experience at AAA. Or to stick with the same team, how the Sox sent Matt Davidson down last year.

    Bryant just didn't leave the Cubs with any wiggle room by dominating every level last year before crushing it in spring training this year.

    I expect this will be addressed in the next CBA somehow, especially now that there is a high-profile guy who obviously deserves a job on the merits of his play being denied.