Mo’ Money, No Problems: What Kris Bryant’s Million Dollar Deal Means for His Future

While $1 million is a pittance by professional sports standards, Kris Bryant’s new contract set an MLB record for a second-year player. And despite providing him with what is surely less money than he’s pulling in from deals with Red Bull, Express, and adidas, the slugging third baseman isn’t scoffing at his new deal with the Cubs.

“I feel like I earned it,” Bryant told the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales. “I felt like just seeing where I fall with guys that were in my situation, I feel respected. It’s nice.”

You may recall the cries of ersatz baseball that went up when Bryant was assigned to AAA Iowa prior to the start of the 2015 season, a business decision Scott Boras, Bryant’s agent, deemed “the apogee of wrongs.” Try as they might to justify the move as a way for the future Rookie of the Year and MVP to hone his defense, it’s obvious that the Cubs did it to maintain an extra year of control by starting Bryant’s service-time clock later.

You may also recall how the Cubs bumped their star’s salary to $652,000 prior to the 2016 season, a raise they didn’t have to offer. We can debate all day the semantic and philosophical differences in paying a player what he’s worth and doing what’s right, but the Cubs come out of this looking pretty good when you consider how the Pirates treated ace Gerrit Cole. And in bumping Bryant’s pay once again this season, his team has reinforced a precedent that runs contrary to the one they’d first established.

It’s true that they can keep Bryant under club control longer that they could have had they brought him up earlier, but they’ve also set him on a path to receive heftier arbitration raises as he gets to that point. That’s a really big deal in Bryant’s case because, as a Super Two player, he’ll be eligible for arbitration prior to the standard three years of service time (remember, Bryant is still technically a second-year player at this point). That means he’ll go through four arb periods (2018-21) before becoming a free agent in 2022. If, that is, the Cubs even let it get that far.

There’s no sense in allowing a guy with this much talent to get anywhere near the open market, not unless that’s really what he wants. By extending Bryant prior to his outright free agency, the Cubs can lock up his prime-production seasons at considerably lower average cost. He still won’t come cheap, it’s just that they’d be buying out those arb years and ideally pushing out the date at which he would hit the market.

It may not sound like much, but paying the NL MVP $1.05 million now might help the team to sign him to a much more lucrative deal down the road. And while he’s not going to completely undervalue himself — I mean, he did hire Boras, after all — Bryant is a pretty humble guy who isn’t out there to set salary records. Even so, that swing and that smile are going to earn him a lot of money down the road.

With that in mind, it makes too much sense for the budding face of baseball to remain in Chicago. Sure, he’ll be flooded with endorsement and appearance deals no matter where he plays. But the marriage of stud player to uber-marketable club with nationwide appeal raises Bryant’s Q-score that much higher.

Regardless of exactly how and when it all goes down, I don’t think anyone needs to be worried about whether wealth of any measure will distract him from his real goals.

“I thought I was excited last year,” Bryant said. “But I’m more excited for this year and to see how this team responds to winning a championship and how we’re going to play that out.”

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