The Cubs have signed Kris Bryant to a record contract, but it's not what you think
Kris Bryant's $1.05 million salary in 2017 is a record for a pre-arbitration-eligible player
The reigning World Series champions have signed the reigning NL Most Valuable Player to a record-breaking contract. It’s just not what you think.
The Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant have reported agreed to a one-year contract worth $1.05 million for the 2017 season. That is the largest one-year deal ever given to a player in his pre-arbitration years.
Angels wunderkind Mike Trout did indeed hold the previous record salary for a pre-arbitration-eligible player. He earned $1 million in 2014. Trout was coming off back-to-back second place finishes in the AL MVP voting at the time. The third largest salary for a pre-arbitration-eligible player was handed out this year as well. The Red Sox recently inked Mookie Betts to a one-year deal worth $950,000.
Players with less than three years of service time are in their pre-arbitration years, so their negotiating leverage is limited. Teams could unilaterally renew the player’s salary at the league minimum in those years, if they wanted. That rarely happens though. Most teams have a sliding salary scale based on service time. Players like Bryant and Trout are special cases given their production and awards history, hence their relatively large salaries.
Once a player reaches three years of service time, he becomes arbitration-eligible and has much more negotiating leverage. Not as much as a free agent, but certainly more leverage than a pre-arbitration player. Most players don’t see their first seven-figure salary until they reach arbitration. But again, Bryant and Trout are special cases. Think of all they had to accomplish to reach $1 million this early in their careers.
It should be noted the Cubs manipulated Bryant’s service time in 2015, which effectively gave them an extra year of control. By delaying his call-up until two weeks into the regular season, they pushed his free agency back from the 2020-21 offseason to the 2021-22 offseason. Giving him a big pre-arbitration salary is the least the team could do after pushing Bryant’s mega-payday back a year.
At some point the Cubs figure to approach Bryant about a long-term contract extension. And when they do, there’s a pretty good chance Bryant will look to become the second $300 million player in baseball history. For now, the Cubs will enjoy the cheapest years of Bryant’s career.
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