Kris Bryant grievance: Arbitrator says MLBPA didn't prove Cubs manipulated service time
Bryant needed one more day of service time to qualify for free agency after the 2020 season
Kris Bryant's grievance against the Chicago Cubs was officially decided Tuesday. Arbitrator Mark Irvings ruled in the Cubs' favor, meaning that Bryant will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. Bryant, who alleged that the Cubs manipulated his service time in 2015, was promoted one day too late to qualify for free agency after the 2020 season.
Irvings' explanation hasn't been publicized, but a source who had read his decision discussed the matter with the Associated Press. Irvings is said to have concluded that the players' union "did not prove Chicago's reasons for holding the third baseman in the minors [...] were a pretext to push back his eligibility for free agency," according to the AP's account.
It's worth noting that Irvings is said to have ruled that "the parties have a duty of good faith in their conduct under the labor contract," but that he did not "decide whether teams have the right to manipulate service time." As such, it's conceivable that future grievances concerning service-time manipulation will result in a player winning their appeal.
Union head Tony Clark issued a statement in which he disagreed with the ruling. The statement read, in part: "While we respect the finality of that decision, we will continue to pursue any and all measures that incentivize competition, discourage service-time manipulation and ensure clubs field their best players. We applaud Kris' courage and determination in challenging the Cubs' actions and seeing the grievance through to the end."
The Cubs presumably argued that the timing of Bryant's promotion had less to do with service-time manipulation and more to do with an injury to incumbetent third baseman Mike Olt. Olt started three of the Cubs' first four games before suffering a hairline fracture in his wrist. Of course, the trick is definitely proving that the Cubs employed Olt only as a means to suppress Bryant. That's hard to do, however, no matter how apparent it looks from the outside.
The Cubs have been expected to entertain trade offers for Bryant all winter, but the grievance had been viewed as a potential hurdle. A favorable ruling would have cut his remaining team control in half, greatly reducing his trade value. Bryant, 28, has a career 136 OPS+. He's averaged 32 home runs per 162 games and won the 2016 Most Valuable Player Award. Last season, he made his third career All-Star Game.
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