Though Kris Bryant is still in a Cubs uniform as Spring Training begins, the third baseman has nonetheless been one of the offseason’s top newsmakers due to the sheer amount of speculation that has swirled around his future over the last few months. Bryant addressed much of this speculation today, speaking to reporters (including MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma) about a variety of topics, including the service-time grievance that was finally decided at the end of January.
Though the arbitration panel ruled in favor of the Cubs, Bryant said he holds “no hard feelings whatsoever” towards the team over the service-time issue. “I completely respect this organization and everything they’ve done for me and my family. They’ve given me an opportunity to play the game that I love every single day,” Bryant said.
The intent of the grievance, Bryant explained, was to confront a longstanding concern that players and the MLBPA have had for some time over top prospects whose promotions to the Major Leagues are delayed for seemingly thin or even outright dubious reasons in order to limit their service time. In Bryant’s situation, the Cubs kept him in the minors to begin the 2015 season ostensibly so the then-star prospect could work on his defense, only for Bryant to get the call to Chicago’s MLB roster on April 17 — to the day, just long enough for the Cubs to gain an extra year of contractual control over Bryant’s services.
Bryant took it upon himself to file a grievance to better help future players in the same situation, and to put a spotlight on the service time issue as the league and players’ union prepare for talks about a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. “I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on,” he said. “I want to be the guy to fight for this because I feel it’s right and it’s going to help us in two years [during CBA talks]. But I always knew it was an uphill battle. No, I didn’t flip any tables or anything like that. It was very respectful from the get-go.”
Though the Cubs were widely expected to win the grievance case, the chance of a decision in Bryant’s favor (which would have made him a free agent after the 2020 season rather than the 2021 season) was seen as a reason why he might still be a Cub today, as rival clubs were unwilling to trade for Bryant if they didn’t know how long he would be under team control. While Chicago continues to explore trade possibilities, it has now been three weeks since Bryant’s case was decided, with seemingly no progress made towards a deal.
Bryant spent this winter trying to avoid trade rumors as best he could, though he said he hasn’t gotten any indications from the Cubs about any potential deals, which doesn’t fit entirely well with the former NL MVP.
“I guess I would like to be in the loop a little bit,” Bryant said. “Obviously, they don’t have to keep me in the loop by any means, you know? But, I feel like I’ve earned a little respect here, in just how I go about my business and just who I am as a player and a person, too, to kind of sit down and have talks like that.”
While a trade is out of Bryant’s hands, he reiterated how much he would like to remain with the Cubs, and said he is “always open” to discussing a possible contract extension to remain in Wrigleyville over the long term. It was almost exactly one year ago that Bryant told reporters that he hadn’t yet been approached by Chicago’s front office about an extension, and during Saturday’s media session, he wanted to clear the air about other contractual speculation.
“The biggest thing with the trade rumors that have disappointed me is I feel like people, not everybody, but the main reasoning behind it is: Let’s get rid of him now because he doesn’t want to be here in two years,” Bryant said. “He turned down this monster extension ’well north of $200MM.’ And I’m like, ’Where was that? I never saw that.’ It’s just these rumors and sources and people just saying things. The only thing that matters is what comes from my mouth. Never once have I said I never wanted to play here. I’m pretty sure you guys can go through all the recordings, all the interviews. I’ve always said I respect everyone in this organization, everyone in this city, the fans. We have it so good here. Of course I would love to play here.”