Kris Bryant Decision Could Have Ramifications for Twins and Byron Buxton
Image courtesy of © Jon Durr-USA TODAY SportsBryant’s Case
Bryant is alleging manipulation of his service time that will keep him from reaching free agency until after the 2021 season. Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, and the MLBPA are arguing that he started the 2015 season at Triple-A, so the club could delay his service-time, a move that is entirely within an organization’s rights.
That spring, he had hit .425 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats and those numbers were no accident. In an interview with Sahadev Sharma at The Athletic, Bryant talked about how he trained differently for that spring so he could put up strong numbers and make it hard for the team to send him down.
“It was so obvious,” Bryant told The Athletic. “‘Oh, he’s gotta work on his defense.’ Stuff like that. But now I can look back on it and just laugh about it because I was told to work on my defense… and I think I got three ground balls in those games that I played. So it’s like, ‘Oh, now he’s ready.’”
He made his big-league debut on April 17, 2015, which meant he only missed 12 days that season. Still, he will fall one day short of being eligible for free agency after the 2020 campaign.
Buxton’s own service time issue doesn’t exactly mirror Bryant’s, but he could have an argument if Bryant wins his case. During the 2018 season, Buxton struggled through multiple injuries and ended the year on the Rochester Red Wings roster. He wasn’t made a September call-up and this choice didn’t sit well with Buxton at the time.
“Yes, I ain’t sugarcoating nothing,” Buxton told the Star Tribune last December. “It kind of didn’t go over well.”
Migraine headaches, a broken toe and a strained wrist cost him much of the 2018 season, but his health seemed to be improving in August with Rochester. He batted .365/.400/.596 (.996) with nine extra-base hits in 12 games and he had every reason to think his performance warranted a September call-up. But by keeping him down, the Twins picked up another year of team control. Instead of reaching free agency following the 2021 season, Buxton will have to wait until after the 2022 campaign.
Minnesota had reasons for keeping him down including a lingering wrist injury, poor strike zone discipline, and not enough playing time at the big-league level. However, Thad Levine admitted service time played a role in why Buxton was kept in the minors.
"I think part of our jobs is we're supposed to be responsible to factoring service time into every decision we make," Levine said. "I still feel pretty resolute in saying that the other three factors were more present for us in this decision-making process than that. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we weren't at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make."
Realistically, this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement. There’s not timeline for a decision in MLBPA’s case for Bryant and there’s no guarantee he will win, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
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