Don’t expect any major changes to the relationship between Kris Bryant and the Cubs in the wake of today’s ruling on his service-time grievance action. There’s “no ill will whatsoever” towards the team on Bryant’s part, a source tells Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
The decision ensures that the Cubs control Bryant for each of the next two seasons. He’s already slated to earn $18.6MM this year and will now go through the arbitration process one more time in advance of the 2021 season.
You might think there’s no cause for concern if you just focus on the single-season earnings. Bryant’s delayed promotion cost him an earlier shot at free agency but did allow him to qualify early for arbitration as a Super Two. He has parlayed that into a big run through the arb process.
But that’s reasoning misses the big picture. Not only has Bryant lost a year of free agency that he could’ve sold for the highest price — quite possibly even higher than what’ll be a big 2021 salary — but he has lost the ability to market himself one season earlier. Market timing is critical. Bryant will now enter free agency at 30 years of age, not an especially youthful point, and runs added risk of injury or performance downturn in the interim.
Still, Bryant doesn’t seem to be taking things personally. While some clubs have looked past service-time considerations to make aggressive promotions — most recently, the Padres did so with Fernando Tatis Jr. — there’s a huge incentive for teams to hold down top prospects just a bit longer than might otherwise be preferred in order to slow their eventual free agent qualification.
Certainly, Bryant and the Cubs have worked together without issue for plenty of time in-between. The grievance was reportedly pursued primarily by the player’s union, which obviously had a broader interest as well. The Bryant-Cubs relationship may be in good-enough shape, but that doesn’t mean it is is bound to continue. An extension seems unlikely and there has even been trade chatter. It’ll be interesting to see whether and when he’ll land in another uniform.