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MLBPA watching Kris Bryant from afar

MESA, Ariz. -- There’s a good reason you never hear Chicago Cubs brass discuss service time issues when it comes to players -- including prized prospect Kris Bryant. It’s partly because the major league baseball players association is listening.

"We always pay attention during the course of the year as guys come up, go down, different considerations that may be a part of those decisions -- we're always paying attention to those things," MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told mlb.com and other reporters Friday.

By keeping Bryant in the minor leagues for about two weeks this season, the Cubs will gain an extra year of service time from him before he becomes a free agent. That would happen in 2021. If he breaks camp with the team, he becomes a free agent after the 2020 season. But teams aren’t allowed to blatantly hold back players for monetary reasons. It’s why the Cubs avoid the service time issue every time it comes up with Bryant. Instead, they give a general answer about him needing to work on his defense or become a complete player.

"How it relates to when someone might come up and when not, those are all things that we pay very close attention to," Clark said. "As the year goes along, we'll see."

It’s also why it’s a little harder to forecast when Bryant might make his debut. If the Cubs bring him up on the exact day they get that extra year out of him it could look fishy. It’s the same exact scenario that the Houston Astros faced with outfielder George Springer last season. Springer started the year at Triple-A, making his debut April 16. It was about a week later than he could have with the Astros still saving a year on his service time. In other words, teams have to make it look good. And an agent can pursue a “service time grievance” if things don’t look right.

So while everyone knows why Bryant most likely won’t start the year in the big leagues, the Cubs can’t officially address it. And if he happens to play defense like Mike Schmidt this spring, the Cubs are really going to have to stretch for a public reason to send him back to Triple-A Iowa.