Kris Bryant has been the talk of baseball throughout the entirety of Spring Training, and rightfully so. After hitting 43 homers and slugging .661 last season in 138 games between Double A and Triple A, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball picked up right where he left off in Spring Training, hitting .425 and leading the league with nine home runs.
On Monday, the Cubs assigned Bryant, who is not on the team’s 40-man roster, to minor league camp and announced he will start the season in Triple A. Many were outraged by the move, including the Major League Baseball Player’s Association, who threatened litigation. However, the Cubs and president Theo Epstein simply made a smart business decision within the rules of Major League Baseball.
When a player is drafted and reaches the major league, the team has control over the player for six full seasons. A full major league season consists of 183 days of service, 162 games and 21 days off. Once a player is in the majors for 172 days of those 182, it is considered a full year. When a player accumulates six full years, he becomes a free agent.
What the Cubs are doing is simply pushing his clock back in order to get another year of team control over one of the best power hitting prospects in baseball. By stashing Bryant in Triple A for 12 service days, and then calling him up to the bigs to finish the year, Bryant will have accumulated 171 service days- not a full season. This means Bryant will be smashing home runs at Wrigley Field until 2021 instead of 2020.
This makes a lot of sense, right? If you have an opportunity to keep potentially one of the best power hitters in the game around for an extra year, why wouldn’t you? Especially during a time where power is more scarce than ever, holding on to one of your best prospects and an elite power hitter for an extra year is certainly a plus for a Cubs franchise looking to win its first World Series since 1908.
Not to mention, the Cubs are not in a serious position to contend for the World Series this season. Despite the signing of former Red Sox ace Jon Lester, the Cubs still simply don’t have enough pieces in place to break the streak just yet. However, by the end of this season, the Cubs will have Bryant in the majors along with shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Jorge Soler, the No. 2 and No. 12 prospects in baseball according to Baseball America.
The Cubs also boast a powerful middle infielder – Javier Baez – and one of the best young first baseman in the game in Anthony Rizzo. Keeping Bryant for another year keeps this core together longer, where it could evolve into the best infield in the majors in just a few years, with Bryant at play on third base.
In the meantime, former UConn star Mike Olt — once a big name prospect in his own right — will man the hot corner for the Cubs. Olt has great power, but struggled last season, hitting .160 and striking out in 38.8 percent of his at bats in 89 games last season, although he did hit 12 home runs. If Olt produces while Bryant is in Triple A, Bryant will likely see time in left field in order to get his bat into the lineup.
Just like he did with the Red Sox over a decade ago, Epstein is slowly but surely resurrecting a once cursed franchise and turning them into World Series contender. Bryant is going to be a huge part of this turnaround. From the day he gets called up, he will produce, and probably hit some towering shots well out of Wrigley Field. He’s going to be the center of the Cubs lineups for years to come. Maybe he can even finally bring home a World Series.
Good thing he has that extra year.