Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant is one of those truly rare and special talents. Recognized by ESPN’s Keith Law and Baseball America at the No. 1 prospect in baseball, Bryant is a major-league ready hitter with at least All-Star upside. Nothing he’s done during his time in the minor leagues has cast any doubt over those expectations either. In fact, he delivered a minor-league best 43 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season, which has actually raised the expectations.
If it were up to Bryant, his agent Scott Boras, and especially fans of the Chicago Cubs, his prodigious power would have been on display as early as last September. Unfortunately, the decision lies with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, and thanks to a quirk in the rules, it’s possible we won’t see him at Wrigley Field until there’s ivy on the outfield wall.
It’s the same scenario that played out with the Houston Astros and George Springer last season. Under the current system, players who are called up within the first 11 days of the regular season are under club control one year less than players called up afterward, so the Astros simply stashed Springer in the minors for two weeks to delay his free agency. It’s a legal maneuver, and it’s something the Cubs will likely use to their advantage.
As Patrick Mooney of Comcast SportsNet Chicago notes though, the Cubs could actually wait until late May or even June before promoting Bryant in an effort to also delay his arbitration. The significance of waiting that long would revolve around Bryant’s Super Two status. If Bryant ranks among the top 22 percent of eligible players in service time between his second and third seasons, he would become a Super Two player, meaning he’s eligible for arbitration one year earlier, but would still have the three arbitration years that are guaranteed.
That can mean the difference of millions of dollars, which is why clubs often try to work around this rule by holding out top prospects until later in the season. It’s a business decision and once again it’s within the parameters, but it’s a strategy that’s also gaining more attention recently, in particular from MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.
With that in mind, Clark made it clear again this week that he’s aware of what teams of are doing, and that he’ll be paying particularly close attention to Bryant’s situation because of the obvious talent that’s involved.
“We have always (believed) – and will continue to believe – that it’s in everyone’s best interests to have the best players playing at any particular time,” Clark said. “Any rules that are in place that some may be using against the spirit of how they may have been designed, we don’t believe (that’s) in anyone’s best interest – the fans, or anyone that loves our games, the players, or even the clubs for that matter.
“We will continue – as we always have – to monitor those types of scenarios and situations in the hopes that everybody does what’s best for the game.”
Of course, there’s nothing Clark can do right now to combat these tactics or appease agents like Boras, but it gives him a better idea of what changes he’ll need to seek out when the current collective bargaining agreement runs out following the 2016 season.
As for the Cubs perspective. You can already sense the maneuvering, which should come as no surprise at all.
“He’s certainly got a lot to work on,” Hoyer said. “He’s only had one full (professional) season and that was five-months long. His defense is the biggest thing. We talk a lot about his progression defensively and certainly that’s the area of the game that needs the most work. He had a great offensive season. There are things that can improve.”
The Cubs have also hinted at playing time in the outfield this spring, which could give them another opening to seek further development in the minors. Still, the Cubs can’t conceivably keep Bryant off the field during spring training. That will serve as his opportunity to showcase his skills and change minds. Ultimately, the onus falls on him to make the Cubs decision a difficult one. It’s what comes after that that could lead to some interesting conversations.
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