The Poster Child Of Service Time Manipulation And The Colorado Rockies’ Perplexing Offseason

The discourse surrounding service time manipulation came to a head in 2015 when Kris Bryant was knocking on the door of the Major Leagues. His case was unique and controversial. Bryant finally reached free agency this offseason, and he got the big payday he’s been working towards. But it’s all very weird isn’t it?

Kris Bryant’s service time manipulation case in 2015 was the most egregious on record. The Cubs very intentionally abstained from adding Bryant to their opening day roster and in 2015 Bryant completed the season with 171 days of service time, leaving him just shy of the 172 days required to accrue a full year of MLB service time.

Bryant went on to win Rookie of the Year in 2015, MVP honors in 2016, and won a World Series title with the Chicago Cubs as well. The Cubs also won something by keeping Bryant in the Minor Leagues an extra day; they got that extra year of team control they wanted so badly.

However, the Cubs’ competitive window was open for a much shorter amount of time than they would have liked. By 2021 the team that many thought would have a potential run at being a dynasty after they won the title in 2016, started selling off their best assets.

In the end, all that extra year of control of Kris Bryant netted the Cubs was two prospects (presently their 7th and 20th best prospects per Baseball America). A far cry from another MVP award or another World Series title.

Finally, Bryant hit free agency in his age 30 season and signed an enormous contract (7-year, $182 million) with the Colorado Rockies causing the baseball world to ask, “Why?”

However, that question is not directed at Kris Bryant. Bryant was the victim of a loophole that could have potentially cost him millions of dollars entering free agency at age 30 instead of age 29. Additionally, Bryant only made $652,000 in base salary per his rookie contract during his MVP season.

Although Bryant, for a time, set the record for the largest deal for a first year arbitration eligible player, he already produced so much surplus value for the Cubs. By the time he hit his arbitration years, the $10.5 million he made to avoid arbitration did not seem fair considering everything he already accomplished for the organization. Thanks to the Rockies, Kris Bryant will make up all of those lost wages and then some over the next seven seasons.

Ah, the Rockies. What are they doing?

Last season the Rockies shocked the baseball world when they traded franchise legend and third baseman Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals in a “spend money to make money move”. While people focused on the $51 million the Rockies gave to the Cardinals to take Arenado, that move ended up saving the Rockies money in the long run. Or at least that is the most brief explanation.

Money that people figured would be used to extend their star shortstop Trevor Story. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Even worse, is instead of flipping Story for anything at the deadline, the Rockies let him become a free-agent. They are most likely hoping the compensation pick they receive for Story signing elsewhere proves more valuable than any prospect they could have received in a trade.

The obvious arguments against shipping two of their homegrown stars off, just to turn around and spend all of that money on Kris Bryant has perplexed the baseball world. The main argument for the Rockies giving Kris Bryant money is that Kris Bryant is a really good baseball player.

More specifically Kris Bryant is a really good offensive baseball player. In fact in terms of wRC+, Bryant is 16% better than Arenado and 22% better than Story over the span of their careers. Furthermore, Bryant did not benefit from playing all of his home games at Coors Field. To summarize an excerpt from Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball, hitting is the most important tool. Kris Bryant can hit and should continue to hit at Coors.

The only issue is, if that’s the approach, why spend so much money on one offensive player when the Rockies could have spent substantially less on a few? And why did they sign Ryan McMahon to a 6-year $70 million extension when he hasn’t posted a wRC+ over 100 in any season? Only the Rockies can answer that question.

What is good about this deal, is that Kris Bryant got paid. After the service time manipulation, the injuries, the on field accomplishments, the lack of fair compensation early in his career, the prevalence of analytics devaluing veteran players, COVID shortened seasons, and lockouts, Kris Bryant finally gets the compensation he was hoping to receive when he broke into the big leagues. Unfortunately, that payday seems to be coming at a cost.

Perhaps Kris Bryant doesn’t mind that the Colorado Rockies are stuffed in the cellar of a deep division with no hopes of competing in the near future. Maybe baseball is just a job for him. He’s already got his MVP, his World Series ring, but now he finally has his money.