In an effort to shake up their offense, the Chicago Cubs are reportedly open to trading third baseman Kris Bryant this offseason. They won't give Bryant away, of course, but he's no longer an untouchable cornerstone.
There's one small problem though: Bryant and Cubs are locked in a service time grievance. Bryant and his agent, Scott Boras, filed a grievance claiming the Cubs manipulated his service time in 2015 to delay his free agency. They did that, absolutely, but it's unclear whether Bryant and Boras have enough evidence to prove it.
At the Winter Meetings on Monday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had this update on the grievance (via ESPN's Jesse Rogers):
"We're fairly confident in what the outcome is going to be but the timing is a bit frustrating. It would be nice to know. We're at the winter meetings and there hasn't been a ruling. I understand these things take time. It's not going to be more than a couple weeks away but it would be nice to have that final confirmation."
If Bryant wins the grievance, he could be retroactively credited with service time, and thus become a free agent next offseason. If the Cubs prevail, Bryant would still be two years away from free agency. One year of control vs. two years of control has a pretty big impact on his trade value. Interested teams don't want to trade for two years of Bryant only to wind up with one year.
The Cubs have discussed Bryant with the Phillies, according to WSCR-AM's Bruce Levine, but no deal is close and the grievance remains an obstacle. The Braves have been speculated as a possible landing spot for Bryant because they can satisfy Chicago's desire for young pitching and need third base help with Josh Donaldson a free agent. Again though, the grievance is an obstacle.
There is precedent for two sides settling a service time grievance financially. Last year the Mariners gave lefty Marco Gonzales a two-year contract worth $1.9 million even though he would've been pre-arbitration-eligible both years, and thus been paid close to the league minimum. As part of the contract, Gonzalez agreed to drop his service time grievance.
Settling the grievance with Bryant could be quite costly for the Cubs. For him, the difference between becoming a free agent next offseason (age 28) and the following offseason (age 29) could equal tens of millions of dollars. Also, Bryant's grievance could have a significant impact on the entire service time system. Settling may be impossible.
For now, the Cubs remain open to moving a core player to reshuffle the roster -- catcher Willson Contreras is said to be on the trade block as well -- and Bryant's grievance is still pending. A resolution is expected reasonably soon. Until then, his trade value is a giant question mark.