DENVER – Cubs manager David Ross muttered under his breath when he heard that Kris Bryant had quickly brought up Ross’ appearances on “Dancing with the Stars” and “Saturday Night Live” when asked about their time together.
“I’m going to kill him,” Ross said with a smile.
Bryant faced his former team for the second time in his career on Thursday, and the second time in seven months, each time in a different uniform. Bryant started in left field and batted third for the Rockies in the series opener.
This time, his trade wasn’t as fresh, and the question of whether he could return to the Cubs in free agency had been answered. On Thursday, Bryant stood by what he’d said in September, when he’d visited Wrigley Field with the Giants, that the trade hadn’t closed the door on a return to Chicago.
“We had some very preliminary talks, more like shorter term stuff,” Bryant said. “But I don’t know if that chapter will ever close until I’m done playing baseball because I rely on a lot of what I went through there to make me who I am now and help me in the future with the guys here.
“So, I’m not ever going to close that chapter. Because I had a lot of fun there. And I’m gonna have a lot of fun here. But I want to do what I did there for another team, and I’m looking forward to making those memories too.”
Bryants’ Cubs memories include plenty of highlights: Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable player, a curse-breaking World Series title, and plenty of friendships like the one he forged with Ross. But this offseason, it became abundantly clear that one of his lasting contributions to Major League Baseball came out of a contentious chapter with the Cubs.
Bryant’s free agency may have halted during the lockout, but Bryant’s name came up plenty as the service time manipulation became a key issue in labor negotiations between MLB and the players association.
Bryant’s case has become the go-to example for service time manipulation. The Cubs infamously sent Bryant to Triple-A to start the 2015 season, just long enough to cost him a year of service time. He and his representation filed a grievance.
“Going through that process, obviously, it wasn’t fun,” Bryant recalled Thursday. “A lot of media attention on it. And I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with it the whole time. But I knew that I had the best case for changing the way this system is run. And I felt that I needed to take it upon myself to do that for everybody, and maybe benefit myself in the process, but knowing that it would be hard to win the case.”
In the end, an arbitrator sided with the Cubs. But the story didn’t end there.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes provisions aimed at addressing service time manipulation. The agreement introduced Prospect Promotion Incentive draft selections for teams that place top prospects on their Opening Day rosters and other specific promotion situations. Eligible prospects who finish in the Top-2 in Rookie of the Year voting will also automatically receive a full year service time.
It remains to be seen what long-term effects those rules will have, but they already seem to be making an impact. Opening Day rosters this year included a star-studded rookie class, including Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez and Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson.
“I’m happy that we got some changes on that,” Bryant said, “because it felt like everything that I did go through, with all the attention and the negativity surrounding it, was worth it. And that makes me happy.”
Under the new rules, Bryant would have received a full year of major-league service time when he won Rookie of the Year in 2015.
“I’m just a little disappointed they didn’t name a rule after me,” Bryant joked Thursday. “I mean, [Shohei] Ohtani got his rule. I didn’t get a rule.”