Chicago Cubs are all too familiar with service time manipulation
Would fixing service time manipulation help the Chicago Cubs?
Remember how the Cubs shamelessly manipulated Kris Bryant’s service time so they could keep him around for one additional useless season when the team didn’t achieve anything? OK, that’s probably not exactly how the relevant internal power point slide was worded back in 2015, although I’m pretty sure the phrase “say it’s about his defense” was on there. In any event, the Bryant case highlighted the greed-driven absurdity of service time manipulation, and it would not be a surprise if the new CBA includes a changed approach. The details, however, are surprisingly ghastly. Jayson Stark covered this well in The Athletic back in 2018 (subscription required); have your favorite painkiller handy, because you will have a headache by the end of that. Suffice it to say that any reasonably likely resolution of this issue probably won’t disproportionately help or hurt the Cubs, but preventing a repeat of the Bryant debacle could only be good for baseball.
The owners crave playoff expansion; it is perhaps their biggest obsession in these negotiations, and one of the few valuable hostages the players hold. In general the players want bigger changes to the existing CBA than the owners, which makes their negotiating position at least superficially more difficult. But playoff expansion can’t happen without the players’ assent, and Bruce Meyer, their chief negotiator, has almost certainly told the owners “you talk to me.”
Most expansion scenarios involve increasing the field from 10 to 14 teams with various options for which teams get early round byes and how the wild card teams would be seeded. No advance degrees needed for this analysis: the bigger the playoff field, the quicker the Cubs can get into it. The issue with expanded playoffs, as always, is the extent to which any such system would excessively reward modest achievement. Would the Cubs be content to be a perennial wild card making an early playoff exit? For the moment, that’s a problem that fans would probably like the Cubs to have.
Hoyer seems to be assembling a forward-thinking front office. One of their first collective tasks will be assessing how the Cubs can best adapt to the challenges the new CBA presents. Let’s hope there is one sooner rather than later.