Bryant’s grievance concerns the date of his MLB call-up: April 17, 2015, one day after the date at which he would have accrued a full year of big league service. In other words, had the Cubs called Bryant up on April 16 or any day before, he would be scheduled to hit free agency after 2020. Instead, he’s currently ticketed for free agency in the 2021-22 offseason.
Of course, the Cubs (and onlookers) were fully aware of the service time implications at the time. Indeed, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams wrote the day of Bryant’s selection to the active roster, “the Cubs opted to delay Bryant’s promotion by 12 days in order to extend their control over the phenom for an additional season.” While Bryant’s case wasn’t the first to feature “coincidental” timing shortly after a relevant service barometer passes, it may have been the most visible. Bryant was then baseball’s top prospect, had destroyed the high minors the year prior, and was even coming off a monster spring training. While the Cubs justified Bryant’s demotion by citing defensive shortcomings, it seems as apparent now as it was then that Bryant’s promotion date was tied entirely to service reasons. As Bryant reflected to Sahadev Sharma of the Athletic in February, “now I can look back on it and just laugh about it because I was told to work on my defense…and I think I got three groundballs in those games that I played. So it’s like, ‘Oh, now he’s ready.’”
If Bryant and agent Scott Boras were to prevail and Bryant were awarded an extra year of service, the consequences would no doubt be far-reaching. Most obviously, Bryant would become a free agent in one year’s time instead of two, which would have enormous effects on the Cubs and potential suitors. After all, Bryant has more than justified his prospect hype, combining to slash .284/.385/.516 (139 wRC+) and accruing 27.8 fWAR in nearly five seasons. He’d certainly vault near the top of any free agent class he is a part of.
Equally interesting would be the ripple effects a Bryant victory could have on the league as a whole. Similar, highly-publicized situations have taken place in recent years with top prospects (perhaps most visibly with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.). Bryant’s grievance, four years in the making, will certainly make for an interesting referendum on the permissiveness of prospect promotions so narrowly after service deadlines.