(CBS) Late last week, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark told reporters that his crew is closely monitoring the promotion timeline for prized Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant. In an effort to protect the players, the MLBPA doesn’t like the practice of teams delaying the service clock of players and thereby setting back their eligibility for free agency by a year, though it’s perfectly acceptable under the CBA and smart to do.
That could well be the case for Bryant, who is expected to be called up several weeks into the season so the Cubs can control him through 2021 instead of 2020. Or as Rozner has proposed, the Cubs could wait until around June 1 to call up Bryant to perhaps save $20 million to $30 million in the future in arbitration hearings (read Rozner’s full story for details).
On Sunday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein jabbed back at Clark and the MLBPA during an interview with Barry Rozner on 670 The Score. Even after trying to bite his lip on the situation, Epstein couldn’t.
“I was a little surprised,” Epstein said, soon turning sarcastic. “I haven’t talked directly to Tony about it, so I’ll withhold comment. But I didn’t know we needed players association permission to send a player to the minor leagues who’s not even on the 40-man roster and has less than 300 plate appearances at Triple-A. That’d be a new one to me.”
The underlying message of Epstein: The Cubs will do whatever’s best for them, everyone else be darned. That means they’ll continue to evaluate Bryant on their own timeline, and Epstein insisted service time discussions have been no part of that.
“Just evaluating him from a baseball standpoint, I’m kind of laughing at how big of a story this has become,” Epstein said. “The reality is for players with less than 300 plate appearances or 250 at-bats, whatever it is at Triple-A, the norm is to get more seasoning. In Kris’ case, he changes people’s perception because he’s so mature, he’s so advanced. He handles thing in stride. He comes across as a 30-year-old veteran even though he’s only 23. So I think that’s gotten people a little ahead of themselves. And look, Kris is in camp competing, and he’s in camp trying to get better. When we talk about Kris Bryant, we don’t talk about service time — not a single conversation. What we talk about is his evolution as a baseball player, his development, his strengths and his weaknesses and how much time we feel he still needs at Triple-A before he’s ready to come up and make an impact in the big leagues. You don’t get that time back. If you call someone up prematurely and they struggle, sometimes it turns out fine and you can send them back and they come back and it’s no harm, no foul. Other times you can derail a player’s career.
“We’re just trying to get this one right. Do the right thing for our big league club. Do the right thing for Kris’ development. Those are our decisions. They’re baseball decisions, and that’s how we’ll make them.”