On Monday, the Chicago Cubs demoted top prospect Kris Bryant to the minors. The 23-year-old third baseman is a consensus top-five prospect in all of baseball, he destroyed Triple-A last year, he blasted nine homers with a 1.652 OPS in the Cactus League this spring, and a few months ago the Cubs traded away the guy who played Bryant's position last year (Luis Valbuena). Their depth chart on MLB.com states that their current plan at third base is sorta-prospect Mike Olt, who last year posted a half-season of a 65 OPS+ with subpar defense as a 25-year-old.
Clearly, Bryant should be starting at the hot corner on Opening Day. He has nothing left to prove in the minors (with his bat, at least) and there isn't much blocking him at the MLB level, even though the book is far from closed on the powerful Olt. But he will spend the first couple weeks of the season in Triple-A, because that will delay his service clock and give the team an extra year of relatively cheap control. Here's what the MLBPA has to say about that:
Today is a bad day for baseball. I think we all know that even if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our game, and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.
Look, I agree that baseball would be better if Bryant was on Chicago's Opening Day roster. Of course I want to see the best players on the field at all possible moments. But there is a system set in place, a system that was carefully crafted and negotiated by both the players and owners. There is a set of rules that sets the boundaries of what is and isn't fair, and this is clearly acceptable within those rules. Well, not clearly; if it was 100% okay then teams wouldn't have to publicly deny that they are manipulating service clocks. But it's not illegal, and therefore it's legal. If this rule is in place, then teams (also known as companies) should absolutely take advantage of it when it benefits them. And I'm not alone in this opinion; Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue shares the same view, and in his site's community poll 89% of the 2,600+ respondents agreed that Bryant should start in Triple-A.
But to hear the Players Association raise a stink about this, of all possible relevant parties, is just too much for me to bear. We are constantly reminded that baseball is a business. Every time that a fan favorite leaves a team for more money elsewhere, we are reminded that baseball is a business, while all the young kids who worshiped that player cry their eyes out on YouTube videos. And the MLBPA, inexplicably one of the strongest labor unions in the world, has never shown any interest in lifting a finger to help anyone in the minor leagues. Heck, in the most recent bargaining agreement, they did everything possible to screw over amateur players -- including capping how much money teams can spend on the draft (and therefore how much they can get away with spending on each specific pick), and forcing all draftees to settle for minor league deals rather than negotiating for MLB contracts. Of course, every dollar not spent on a draft pick is a dollar that can be spent on a player already in the union, and that's how unions work. They look out for their current members, not their past or future ones.
And that's the rub. The MLBPA shouldn't be calling out the Cubs for messing with Bryant. All of us should be calling out the MLBPA for letting this whole system happen in the first place. If they truly cared about amateurs and minor leaguers and the integrity of the game, they would back up those words with actions at the negotiating table. They would concede something else they care about to close this loophole. But they won't, and they probably shouldn't, because, again, that's not how unions work. The thing is, you can't be cold and calculating like that on one side and then speak about against being cold and calculating on the other. That's disingenuous and manipulative. That makes you a dick.
So, until something changes, I applaud the Cubs for making the tough choice and using the rules in place to maximize their organization's overall chances of winning. It sucks that Bryant will be negatively affected by that choice, and that we fans will be negatively affected by not getting to watch him yet, and he should really start bugging his teammates to change that rule so that it stops happening. And, because this is Athletics Nation, the A's should absolutely do the same thing with Drew Pomeranz, because they have enough starting pitching that they won't sacrifice much (if anything) on the field for a month. An extra year of a (hopefully) good pitcher is worth a lot more than the marginal benefit of getting four more starts from Pom instead of, say, Jesse Chavez or Barry Zito, who would probably be just fine and can't be demoted themselves.
I present you with a quote:
"When someone says it's the system, no, it's a choice -- the choice of winning."
That's master manipulator Scott Boras, calling out the Cubs for not having a commitment to winning. The thing is, though, he got it backwards. The Cubs are choosing to win, by increasing their chances in 2020 with a tiny sacrifice in what is likely a non-contending season. Any reasonable forecast will show that this move results in more wins for the Cubs organization overall. No, it isn't just the system. Yes, it is a choice. But it's a choice the MLBPA has to make to end this loophole, if they're willing to put their money where their mouths are.
The union's statement suggests that they will fight this type of thing in bargaining. Prove it. No, seriously, prove it MLBPA. I want you to. End this silly practice. But until that day, don't ever complain about it, because you are the only ones who can change it and you're on the cutting edge of not doing so.