Third baseman Kris Bryant was reassigned by the Chicago Cubs to their minor league camp Monday despite an outstanding spring training at the plate, triggering a threat of litigation from the players' association.
Bryant hit .425 in the exhibition season with nine homers and 15 RBI in 40 at-bats. If the 23-year-old spends 12 or more days in the minor leagues, Chicago would delay him from becoming eligible for free agency by one year, until after the 2021 season, according to baseball's collective bargaining agreement.
"Today is a bad day for baseball," the Major League Baseball Players Association said in a statement. "I think we all know that even if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our game, and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both."
Major League Baseball defended the Cubs' decision.
"In accordance with long established practice under the Basic Agreement, a club has an unfettered right to determine which players are part of its opening-day roster," MLB said. "This issue was discussed extensively in bargaining in 2011, and the principle was not changed."
Bryant, who is not on the 40-man roster, was slowed defensively in the middle of camp by right shoulder soreness.
"It's always difficult to send young players down because it is news they don't want to hear," Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said.
Bryant was not available to discuss the move. His agent, Scott Boras, called it "Ersatz Baseball."
Preparing for its first season under manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs also sent second baseman Javy Baez to Class AAA Iowa and reassigned shortstop Addison Russell were assigned to minor league camp.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you wouldn't like to have him in your lineup," Maddon said. "He's also 23. I'm looking forward to working with this guy for the next 15 years. He's a brilliant talent. I'm not going to sit here and say things that are disingenuous. This guy is good. He's going to be really good."
• Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy will likely begin the season on the disabled list because of a strained left shoulder. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that he was optimistic that Hardy wouldn't miss much time.
• Commissioner Rob Manfred said Montreal needs a new stadium to have any chance of bringing Major League Baseball back to the city, which is playing host to two exhibition games this weekend at the Expos' old Olympic Stadium.
• The Mets made two trades to bolster a bullpen lacking in lefthanders, acquiring Alex Torres from San Diego and Jerry Blevins from Washington.
• Milwaukee released Chris Perez, ending the former All-Star closer's bid for a setup job in the Brewers bullpen.
• Veteran lefthander Paul Maholm was released by Cincinnati.