The legitimacy of a Kris Bryant demotion

Spring Training is one of the few places where the old school beats the new school; emphasis is placed more on how players feel and look instead of their stat line. One player who has captured the attention of both worlds is Chicago Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant. The No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft has been turning heads with the pure power display he’s put on in Mesa, Arizona.

There is more probability than likelihood, however, that Bryant will begin the season in Triple-A instead of with the big league club.

For a player selected less than two calendar years ago, this appears hardly problematic. But when the player has absolutely destroyed the minor leagues and shown an ability to hit major league pitching, in exhibition format anyways, some eyebrows are raised. Most notably those of Bryant’s agent: Boras, Scott.

The super-agent recently criticized not only Cubs’ ownership, but Major League baseball itself and went so far as to say, “[the Cubs] are damaging the ethics and brand of Major League Baseball.”

The current system for determining service time and thus the arbitration eligibility of a player has been a hot topic. Should the Cubs elect not to bring Bryant north with the big league term and call him up after he’s spent 12 days in the minors, they will secure an extra year of team control. Bryant would not be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season as opposed to the 2020 season. This is not an uncommon practice among major league clubs.

This is all common knowledge though, and the decision to send the 23-year old to Triple-A for the first several days of the regular season only makes sense. The Cubs will play just nine games in the season’s first 12 days, and as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports conveys, the decision is simple: nine games in 2015 vs. 162 in 2021.

[pullquote]Bryant was Baseball America’s minor league player of the year for 2014 and is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball entering 2015.[/pullquote]

The Cubs are making a practical business decision by demoting Bryant to start the season. Sure, waiting a few months would be of more financial benefit since the third baseman is more than likely to qualify as a Super-Two player and receive an extra year of arbitration. But certainly the Cubs will recoup that money in Bryant jersey sales in the coming years. Barring an unforeseen event, waiting until the summer to promote Bryant won’t be necessary. Particularly so for a club that has not only playoff expectations, but World Series expectations.

With that in mind, it would make further sense to ensure that the Cubs bring the best 25 players to the Windy City. We mention this in regards to the Seattle Mariners as well.

But we see the business side of things and it’s obvious why a club would wait out the time period with a top prospect. Often teams will concoct some kind of justification for not promoting the player immediately when doing so seems obvious.

Bryant has been battling some shoulder soreness this past week that has prevented him from playing in the field. On Thursday he handled designated hitter duties for the club’s ‘B’ game in the morning and promptly belted another home run. The Cubs wanting to take things slow with their blue chip prospect is understandable, and justifiable.

Bryant is expected to play in the field in a big league game this weekend, though, and with just over two weeks until Opening Day, it’s not likely the slight setback will affect his regular season in any way.

The injury isn’t a factor, but what about the right-hander’s limited experience? Between 2013 and 2014 Bryant only has 832 professional plate appearances. It isn’t atypical to see a prospect have been 1,000 and 2,000 minor league PA’s for adequate seasoning. Also, consider that not all Spring Training at-bats are equal: many of Bryant’s plate appearances this March have been against minor league pitching or inferior competition. It’s plausible to suggest that a couple weeks of facing consistent Triple-A pitching would better prepare Bryant for big league pitchers.

Really, we could run through so many scenarios that could justify the club’s looming decision or why Bryant should be on the big league club. At this point in time though, it’s more than likely that the Cubs take the path the system allows for and the top prospect spends the first 12 days in the minor leagues. Calling him up after 15 days instead of 12 days doesn’t even put a band-aid over the issue, either.

Bryant has superstar written all over him and can look forward to a successful and profitable career should all turn out. Spending two weeks in the minors to start 2015 doesn’t change that projection. The effect on the Cubs, despite the lofty World Series projections, will also be negligible.

One takeaway from the Boras induced drama is how Bryant has handled himself in the media. Perhaps the organization has conditioned him on ‘the right things’ to say, but nothing sounds forced. He gets the business side of things and at the end of the day, just wants to play baseball. And that’s exactly what he should be worrying about doing.

The heart of the issue will have to be analyzed prior to the next collective bargaining agreement. Whether changes will be made remains to be seen. Boras can attempt to shame an organization all he wants, but as long as the club operates within the rules, there’s nothing he can do but blow smoke, which he will.

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Jason A. Churchill

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