LAKELAND, Fla. -- The service-time rules that could keep phenom Kris Bryant from breaking camp with the Chicago Cubs have drawn the attention of the Major League Baseball Players Association. And union chief Tony Clark said Tuesday that clubs' use of any rule to avoid fielding the best possible team is "unfortunate."
During his annual spring training visit to the Detroit Tigers' camp, Clark was asked about the "Super 2" rule which teams now routinely use to delay calling up top minor leaguers until their arbitration eligibility is delayed for a year.
"We don't think it's in anyone's best interest," the union's executive director said, "and we don't think it's in the industry's best interest, to not have the best players on the field all the time."
Bryant, who leads the major leagues in homers this spring with six, may not be specifically affected by that rule, but if he spends the first nine games of the season in the minor leagues, the Cubs would be able to keep him from exploring free agency until 2021 instead of 2020. Clark said the union's concerns extend not just to Bryant but to "any other player" who is kept out of the big leagues specifically to suppress his service time.
"As you know, this is a conversation we tend to have every year," Clark said. "And it's unfortunate that we have it. ... Although clubs are going to make whatever decision they need to make against the system that's in place, it's unfortunate that any fan would believe that they're not seeing all of the guys that they would like to see perform on the field."
The "Super 2" rule has been in place since 1990. It allows only the top 22 percent of players with between two and three years of service time to qualify for arbitration a year early. In response, clubs have begun to delay calling up their top prospects until mid-to-late June, in order to delay their eligibility for both arbitration and free agency for an extra year.
Bryant's status has become a particularly hot topic, both in Chicago and around baseball, because of his sensational spring a year after he hit 43 home runs and won numerous minor league player of the year awards. While the Cubs aren't likely to keep Bryant in the minors until June, they're expected to send him to the minors at the end of spring training to postpone his free-agent eligibility.
Clark made it clear Tuesday that the union was not honing in exclusively on Bryant, but on all instances of teams keeping their best players off their rosters for business reasons.
"At the end of the day," Clark said, "fans in the stands, everybody who has come here today, is excited about seeing the best players in the game. If, at the end of camp, Kris or any other young player suggests that he is prepared or equipped to make a contribution, we would love to see those guys on the field."
Clark said the union's concerns about the "Super 2" rule involve "how or if it's being manipulated to justify the decisions that are being made against not putting perhaps the best team on the field. That one is probably more in tune for somebody in management."
"As you might expect, I'm a former player," he said, "and to the extent I can appreciate (any player) having the opportunity to contribute, it's something that I pay attention to, something that we pay attention to, something that we will always pay attention to. It's our responsibility to pay attention to it."