The cases of Bryant and Franco, both 23, highlight the blurry line between teams operating within collectively bargained rules and using trumped-up rationale to retain players for an extra season beyond the six full years that precede free agency. The question of service-time manipulation long predates Bryant and Franco and is an inherent product of a system that bases free agency – as well as the extra year of arbitration known as Super 2 status – on days in the major leagues.The fact that Bryant wasn't called up until a starting player was injured certainly helps the Cubs' case.
After Bryant led the major leagues with nine home runs in spring training, the Cubs sent him to Triple-A, arguing he needed to work on his fielding. The MLBPA sent out a press release that began: “Today is a bad day for baseball.” When Cubs opening day third baseman Mike Olt hit the disabled list with a right wrist fracture, Bryant came up to take his spot. Bryant played in 151 of the Cubs’ final 154 games, hit .275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs and helped lead Chicago to its first playoff appearance since 2008.
The bigger question is whether the Cubs should file a grievance with the MLBPA and the league of the ridiculousness of this entire process. The collective bargaining agreement specifies that 172 days of service time is required for the first year of major league experience to officially begin. Next year Bryant is the first year towards free agency whether he's in the big leagues for 172 days or 23. Those are the rules. The rules say the team can place him in the minors, and then call him up, and as long as it's under 172 days then it doesn't count. So the team did exactly that, and only played Bryant for 151/162 games. You might think it's a little dirty pool, but so is police cars hiding behind bushes. If you want them to stop doing that, just make it a rule that they can't. It sounds indeed like the MLBPA is planning on fighting the service time rules during the next CBA negotiation (CBA expires 12/1/16), which I suppose is fair enough.
So Bryant should really petition his union to change that.
But the last time a CBA was negotiated, his union didn't. Whether for good or ill, they signed a CBA that allows teams some flexibility in deciding how the first year towards free agency is reached. If Bryant and Franco and the MLBPA decide they want to contest this, the very first question the MLB or any arbiter should respond with is "what concession will you grant the league"? Will the MLBPA allow the MLB to play the Chicago Cubs (and therefore, Bryant) for 53 consecutive days next season in violation of Section C.12? When the hearing is held will the Chicago Cubs be allowed to pick a venue without any input from Bryant whatsoever (say, for example, Syria?) even though both parties are supposed to agree upon the location (preference to LA, Tampa, and Phoenix)?
The point is that if Bryant's grievance is allowed to progress it basically means that the MLBPA has no intention of honouring the agreement they supposedly signed in good faith. If that's the case, then the MLB should be protesting every time a player refuses to accept any contract offered that would violate the terms of the CBA that the players' union would like.