White Sox reasons to watch Kris Bryant’s grievance

In our discussion of the future of Minor League Baseball on Monday, I mentioned that it was one of two topics I’d missed while away and wanted to enter into the record.

The other is the long-awaited final act of Kris Bryant’s grievance with the Cubs, which is finally unfolding after several years of dormancy. The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney says it’s likely to be resolved by the winter meetings, and the question is whether the Cubs need to change their plans for the next two seasons. If Bryant and Scott Boras achieve ultimate victory, he would hit free agency after 2020, not 2021. That doesn’t seem likely, but it’s now within the realm of possibility.

On one hand, it’s ridiculous that a grievance over service time takes four years to settle. I understand wanting to have some larger context for the management of the individual — did he look overmatched? did roster emergencies force their hand? — but it seems like that can be achieved in half the time, especially when a guy like Bryant wins Rookie of the Year in his first year and Most Valuable Player in his second.

On the other, there would be some poetic justice in a team seeing its timeline compromised because the powers above them decided to exercise their leverage, threatening to upset everything they’ve worked toward.

It’s worth monitoring the outcome as a White Sox blog because it’d be a precedent for Rick Hahn’s handling of a handful of prospects. Eloy Jiménez’s spring training contract extension probably takes him out of the conversation, even though that’s the only thing that made him an Opening Day starter. The presence of Yolmer Sánchez and Danny Mendick on the depth chart give the Sox a baseball reason for taking their time with Nick Madrigal, even if a win-now team might have different priorities.

Luis Robert is the one they’d have to worry about, because his case shares a lot of Bryant-like characteristics thus far:

  • No pressure to sign an early-career contract extension.
  • Performance not an issue.
  • Nowhere near blocked at MLB level.
  • Team delays ascension due to vague length-of-season reasoning.

Like Bryant, Robert looked eminently ready for the majors by the end of his first full pro season, but both teams said five months of baseball was enough for now. Robert accepted that decision in stride, and if the Sox penciled him into the Opening Day roster for 2020 with no strings attached, all claims of bad faith would die of natural causes.

What happens from this point makes the difference.

For the Cubs, they made no plans for third base at the MLB level, as Mike Olt was the nominal starter despite hitting .160 the year before. Yet the Cubs made Bryant open the 2015 season in Triple-A because of his “defense.” They waited just beyond the requisite two weeks to gain the extra year of service time, when Olt’s wrist fracture made suppressing Bryant impossible to maintain. The Cubs are probably arguing that the Olt injury forced their hand, not the service-time threshold. I’m guessing Bryant’s side is saying starting Olt was already enough to convict.

Assuming the White Sox aren’t planning to acquire enough MLB talent to block Robert, they’re probably watching to see how the arbitrator interprets the Cubs’ actions. If they end up losing the seventh year of team control they thought they’d have, then the manipulation can’t be defended with “7>6” so easily.

However, if Bryant winning ROY and MVP made the difference, then I’m guessing the Sox would take their chances and assume Robert’s career won’t start as smoothly. And if Bryant only wins a settlement in the form compensation that doesn’t change his timeline, then that probably isn’t enough to change the crummy-but-common practice.

The Sox aren’t the only team with an interest in how this is resolved. The Twins face a similar prospect with Byron Buxton, with the added complication that Minnesota GM actually used service time as a partial justification. That’s why you’ll never see Rick Hahn admit that team control is a factor, even if his categorical denial of its significance ultimately invalidates whatever answer he gives.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Sometime in July it will be Luis Robert day! Get your tickets now!

Shingos Cheeseburgers

Nah I’ll wait and get a couple dozen from Bruce Lee day of game


I think this needs a much more definitive resolution in the CBA not on a case by case appeal. To me its black letter (and I hate siding with ownership) but if a team is allowed to decide when they think a player should be up, then thats that. The hall of fame is loaded with players who needed to be sent back down and proved not to be ready for their first taste of the bigs. Who can prove beyond a doubt what people think about Eloys defense, or someones pitch recognition … etc etc

We all “know” the gms/owners are manipulating the service time loophole, but you can always make an excuse, so they need to simply get rid of the loophole.

I like the idea of a set age for free agency. Something like high school draft picks have til their age 26 season before free agency, and college draft picks have until their age 28 season… etc etc something like that. Put every single player on the same trajectory, that way teams cant play games and the best players will play when ready.

karkovice squad

Black letter would mean teams are explicitly granted the ability to manipulate service time in the CBA. That’s quite literally not the case. Which means the implicit freedom to run their baseball operations as they please butts up against the also implicit covenant of good faith and presumption that teams are trying to win baseball games.


a third of the league tanks… is that trying to win baseball games, they literally come out and say we are rebuilding now a days to buy themselves 3 to 5 years to do everything but win

if the cubs wink wink say bryants defense isnt ready, how can you prove they dont think that?

either teams can decide whats best for their organization or the players union can… the way the CBA was written and signed by both sides it gives ownership the right to make that call

the appeal process that is now on year 4 is the worst way to handle this, why not write in explicit terms what a new service time arrangement is and eliminate all this non sense?

karkovice squad

The MLBPA probably could probably make a case that tanking teams represent match fixing if they wanted to. They did file a grievance, also still pending, over revenue sharing beneficiaries not spending their monies.

They’ll use the same kind of information used to win salary arbitration hearings. They obviously have a good enough case to not have it dismissed outright. And the standard is only going to be a preponderance of the evidence (51% certainty) rather than beyond a reasonable doubt (almost 100% certainty) with a range of possible outcomes depending on both how much they can prove and how egregious the violations, if any exist, are.

And no, it’s not as simple as either the teams can decide or the union can because baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum, there’s still a world of laws and precedents that govern the relationship. The grievance process is to determine how that plays out.

The grievance process is a fantastic tool for handling this because it was written into the contract. The union should use every tool available. Why should they disarm themselves? Regardless of the outcome they’ll be in a better position to negotiate the next CBA. They can’t be worse off than they already were pre-grievance.


Good points.

I truly hope it just becomes much clearer in the new CBA.

karkovice squad

I hope ownership bargains in good faith and doesn’t force a work stoppage.


I don’t get this whole grievance thing. The PA and its rank and file ratified the CBA. A team can promote (or not promote) a player for countless reasons, hair too long, attitude, who knows. If there’s a sound business reason keeping MLB ready players in the minors then the teams have every reason to do it overtly or covertly. The players messed up by accepting the CBA and baking this in so now they want a “do-over” through the grievance process.

karkovice squad

The possible reasons for promoting or denying a promotion aren’t infinite. Contract and employment law do provide limits. While the situations aren’t completely analogous, that’s why the NFL settled with Kaepernick. The grievance process absolutely exists to resolve a situation left ambiguous by the contract.

karkovice squad

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Trooper Galactus

Whole damn front office needs to be frozen in carbonite.


Didn’t that happen about 12 months ago?


Manipulating a players service time for “sound business reasons” is a breach of the CBA. The grievence process isn’t a “do-over” it’s the players association’s way of holding owners accountable for breaking a CBA that the owners also signed.

lil jimmy

The Cubs are considering trading Bryant, it seems. They can’t do that till this gets settled.


Here is an idea I have not even half thought through to deal with service time issues like this:

Near the end of Spring Training, there is a draft where any team can draft another team’s prospect who isn’t on the 26-man roster and sign him to a 3-year $30M contract (he’d go to arbitration the 3 years following the contract) which would obligate they keep him on their active roster for a full year (the current team would not need to give him a 3-yr contract, just put him on the active roster and keep him there some minimum amount of time). The dollar amount of the contract is intend to be big enough you’d only offer it to someone with either the immediate floor of an average starter or a really high ceiling. I’m not married to the amount.

It’s sort of like the rule 5 draft but instead of guys off the 40 man roster it is designed to get premium prospects promoted quickly. A team would only pick a guy they were sure he was ready and likely to be very good.

karkovice squad

I don’t think either side agrees to that, though. Owners because it undermines the salary suppression effects of arb and their leverage for getting contract extension. Players because it disadvantages current major Leaguers who’ve already gotten the business end of service time manipulation and salary suppression–it piles on the pain for baseball’s already-suffering middle-class free agents.


Not sure how it hurts the middle-class free agents. It hurts the replacement level guy who would have otherwise held a roster spot for a month or two until they promoted the prospect.

karkovice squad

It’ll cost a replacement player a job, sure. But players are mostly fine with the idea of meritocracy.

The objection will be how it reduces demand for older free agents who’d be in line for similar contracts. Those players are already disadvantaged in current free agency and have already had their wages suppressed before free agency. The contract structure is also probably either going to be so inexpensive it suppresses free agent wages or so expensive it doesn’t solve the problem it sets out to address.

It’s a lot easier to just close the service time loopholes directly instead of putting in another complicated market mechanism.


It makes the prospect more expensive than they are today but either getting them a contract (rarely) or getting them to arbitration a year earlier

karkovice squad

In cash compensation, yes. But that’s still a lower total cost than it would take to pry the player away in trade under existing rules. The possibility of player availability will affect the rest of the market. So still better to just change the service time rules directly.


But a higher cost than today

karkovice squad

Apropos: Barry Petchesky got fired from Deadpsin for writing about politics. The GMG union is a bit displeased.


Was it politics, or calling them out for spam autoplay ads?

karkovice squad

It sounds like they wanted to fire him for writing about politics and he wrote that as a deliberate provocation.


From what I can tell reading through the WaPo article, management told him to stick to sports and he refused. The staff were acting like petulant children. It should be noted that Gizmodo Media Group, which was once worth $250m was sold for less than $50m to a private equity firm. It doesn’t appear what they were doing was working so I can understand management’s decision to make changes or streamline the content.

karkovice squad

That summary leaves out massive parts of the story like Univision buying Gawker for a bit more than $100m because the Hogan lawsuit bankrupted the company. Univision themselves having been bought by a private equity firm that mismanaged the whole parent company, including a failed IPO, putting all of their assets in distress. That’s kind of like blaming UAW for GM’s shitty car designs.


I believe he refused because he understands – like the rest of the writers there – that people don’t go there solely for the sports takes. If anything, they are a secondary concern.
There’s also the aspect that management are throwing in autoplay videos 2009-style (potentially illegally) and are removing posts without permission from the union.
The staff are the site. Management should have a say, but they don’t get to dictate because they ought to realise that all they really own is a name (look at sbnation for countless examples along these lines).


This. I know people with little to no interest in sports that read Deadspin.

Also I believe the union contract prohibits management interfering with editorial like this