Starting Kris Bryant In Minors Is Non-Decision For Cubs

This spring, Kris Bryant has been hitting his mind out. In 10 games, the Chicago Cubs’ 23-year-old uber-prospect is slashing a video-game-like .480/.552/1.520 with eight home runs in 25 at-bats. With that performance has naturally brought questions about where he will be come the start of the season. On one hand, the way he is performing makes it look more and more like he has nothing to prove in the minors, and the Cubs are finally hoping to compete again, but on the other hand, there are significant service time considerations, too. Well, for the Cubs, starting Bryant in the minors should be a non-decision.

Per current service time rules, a player is under control for six years, generally three under pre-arbitration salaries and three under arbitration control. One service year is equal to 172 days, so if a player only spends 171 days on a roster in a season, that does not count as a full service year, and a team can gain an extra year of control by stashing a player in the minors for 11 or so days before calling him up to the big leagues.

Essentially, this gives the team seven years of control and the club is only missing out a week and a half of that player. However, if they do call him up before somewhere in June (depending on the year), they will be likely be forced to pay him a fourth arbitration year under super two rules.

So, with Bryant, if the Cubs were to start him on the Opening Day roster and never send him back to the minors, he would be team-controlled through 2020. However, if they wait just 11 or so days to call him up, he could be controlled through 2021, though he would almost surely qualify for super two and be arbitration eligible for four of his essentially seven controlled seasons. If they waited until the super two cutoff that is usually in June, he would still be controlled through 2021, but he would only have three arbitration eligible seasons, albeit while also missing out on a couple of months of potential time on the roster, a much more significant amount than a week and a half.

Say the Cubs wait even 20 games into the season to call up Bryant. And, let’s get crazy and say Bryant would be worth 5.0 WAR if he played in 155 games in a season (a fair amount for a big-league regular). Even if he can produce that much value, which is unlikely because power prospects often have a longer adjustment period in the big leagues, missing 20 games would only mean losing about 0.6 WAR.

In return for 0.6 WAR, the Cubs would be able to get a complete extra year of control. Even if Bryant were to produce 3.0 WAR in that extra season, which would be his age-30 season, the trade-off seems like a steal.With Bryant having the potential to be worth well more than that, how can the Cubs justify losing out on a full season of potentially elite production all for what is likely to be around one-half WAR of production?

The Cubs should not be blamed or vilified at all for being inclined to send Bryant to the minors. If anything, the hatred over why there is any debate at all about sending him to the minors should be directed towards the service time system. Simply put, it makes no sense under current rules for the Cubs to start Bryant in the majors when they can gain an extra year of control by holding him at Triple-A for not even two weeks.

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