Chicago Cubs: Arbitrator Found Shoddy Defense, Injuries Were Good Enough Reasons To Rule Against Kris Bryant

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Kris Bryant has known for a while now that the Chicago Cubs won their arbitration hearing involving the third baseman’s service time grievance. On Monday night, the arbitrator’s report was released and the reasons why Theo Epstein and company won the day. The Chicago Tribune reported that the arbitrator, Mark Irvings, accepted Theo’s rationale for why Bryant was called up to the big leagues exactly one day after a deadline that gave the team an extra year of control.

Irvings wrote he didn’t see any “nefarious motive” for why Chicago waited to call up Kris Bryant, despite the player being one of the top prospects in all of baseball and most of the league knowing he was more talented than the guys who were blocking him on the 25-man roster. The media acquired the 42-page report issued by the arbitrator on Tuesday evening, and it details all the reasons and evidences the Cubs offered up to defend their decision.

At issue is that extra year of control. Had the team called Bryant up one day earlier, he’d be a free agent at the end of the current season. Because they waited that day, he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. His grievance was filed in order to try and allow him to test the open waters this coming winter.

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Among the reasons Chicago gave for why the timing was so close was because the team saw two players, Mike Olt and Tommy LaStella, go down with injuries in a short period of time. Irvings apparently believed this played a bigger role than a date on the calendar for Bryant’s callup.

The Major League Baseball Player’s Association had filed the grievance on behalf of Bryant and were hoping the arbitrator would rule in a way that would help set precedent for other players treated similarly to Kris Bryant. Irvings crushed those hopes as part of his ruling.

“The association could not satisfy its burden of proving that the Cubs’ assignments of Bryant were done in bad faith to mask service time manipulation. Given this finding, there is no need to resolve, and this decision does not address, the global issue of whether clubs have the right to manage service time to delay a player’s achievement of the service benchmarks for salary arbitration and free-agent eligibility.”

When looking at Bryant’s specific claims against the Chicago Cubs, there was also the issue of him hitting over.400 that spring. On the other hand, he made three errors in eight games and, as Irvings noted, had the worst fielding percentage in baseball for the spring.