DENVER — Seven years after the Cubs manipulated Kris Bryant’s service time to get an extra year of club control, the newly inked Rockies outfielder said he remains disappointed about one thing.
And it has nothing to do with losing his grievance against the Cubs or having his free agency delayed by a year.
“I’m just a little disappointed they didn’t name a rule after me,” he said Thursday before facing the Cubs for the first time since signing a $182-million free agent deal with the Rockies. “I mean, Ohtani got his rule. I didn’t get a rule.”
Bryant’s case became a rallying cry for the union in addressing the long-contentious problem service-time manipulation in the new collective bargaining agreement — with players winning significant concessions that include awarding the top two finishers in Rookie of the Year balloting the full year of service time regardless of when they were promoted.
The new CBA also rewards teams with extra draft picks for promoting players to Opening Day rosters and keeping them three for the full season, based on the players’ performances.
Like the rule that benefits Angels MVP Shohei Ohtani by allowing a starting pitcher to hit and remain in the game as the DH after he's done pitching, the new system for rookies might as well be the Kris Bryant Rule for the influence his career had on that after he was optioned to the minors out of big-league spring training in 2015 despite the best offensive spring performance since Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard a decade earlier.
After spending exactly enough time in the minors to assure he wouldn’t get credit for a full season of service time, the Cubs called him up two weeks into the season — before he won the Rookie of the Year award, followed by the NL MVP during the Cubs’ 2016 championship season.
“Jokes aside, going through that process obviously wasn’t fun,” Bryant said. “There was a lot of media attention on it. I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with it the whole time, but I knew that I had the best case for changing the way the system is run, and I felt that I needed to take it upon myself to do that, for everybody. And maybe benefit myself in the process, but knowing that it would be kind of hard to win the case.”
His grievance was heard five years and three All-Star appearances later, and the arbitrator, as expected, was unwilling to essentially overturn a pillar of the game’s labor economy.
“I’m happy that we got some changes done, because it felt like everything I did go through, with all the attention and negativity surrounding it, was worth it,” Bryant said, “and it makes me happy.”
In the end, the Cubs’ manipulation of Bryant in 2015 might have benefitted him, considering the alternative would have meant becoming a free agent after the 2020 pandemic season, pre-vaccines, when teams were skittish over “biblical” pandemic losses and uncertainty over revenues heading into 2021.
Bryant also was coming off a hairline fracture in his hand that limited him to about half the already abbreviated season and contributed to his worst statistical season.
“Maybe it wouldn’t have worked out the way I wanted it to,” he said. “As terrible as it is — a shortened season and me being hurt and everything that was going on in the world. … I’m a firm believer in things happen for a reason. And that didn’t work out for me, to get me to this point today.”