Well, they had to do it, but it's not going to mean a whole hill of beans.
The Phillies' Maikel Franco and the reigning Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant have officially filed grievances against their teams, claiming the Cubs and Phillies held them down in the minors just long enough to prevent their free agency from starting one year earlier.
Once a player has accumulated 172 days of Major League service, they are said to have accrued a full season of service time. After six or more years of service time, a player is eligible for free agency. However, by holding a player down in the minors for a certain number of games, like the Phils and Cubs did with Franco and Bryant, they can keep that number under 172 and thereby gain another year team control over those players.
Bryant made his Major League debut on April 17 after a torrid spring in which he hit nine homers, coming off a season in Triple-A in which he batted .295/.418/.619 in 70 games with 14 homers. He filed his grievance earlier in the year after it seemed clear Chicago was starting him off in the minors just long enough to ensure he would finish under 172 days in 2015.
Bryant finished the season with 171 days of service time.
Franco was called up by the Phils late in 2014 and accumulated some days there. He made his MLB debut in early May but wasn't a candidate to start the season with the Phillies out of spring training.
Franco's grievance is that, when the Phils optioned Cody Asche to the minors on May 12, Franco wasn't called up until May 15. He finished the season with 170 days of service time, falling just short of a year.
It's clear both teams manipulated the system to their advantage. However, they both played within the rules handed down by the current collective bargaining agreement.
It's unlikely either team will get penalized for using the system to their advantage. And you can't blame the players, who are paid so little for the first few years of their pro careers, for trying to have their free agency moved up a year. This is mostly a way for the Player's Union to address an issue they want to see changed for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2016.
If, however, the players do win their cases, you could end up seeing teams keeping players in the minors for longer, not shorter periods, so as to preclude the appearance they're trying to manipulate service time rules.
As far as the Phillies are concerned, it's unlikely Franco's free agency eligibility will get moved up from after the 2022 season to the 2021 season. And it's unlikely there is any real ill will between Franco and the organization, as Franco's agent told Yahoo! Sports Jeff Passan.
"Sports is a business, and both sides are going to make the decisions they think suit their business aspirations and what they're trying to accomplish," said Ryan Royster, Franco's agent. "We want to see things geared toward winning, and this isn't just the Phillies. It's all teams. The fans deserve to see the best product on the field, and the players deserve the best team surrounding them so they can win."
I do expect this rule to change during negotiations for the new CBA. How, is anyone's guess.