When Kris Bryant would be called up to the Cubs for good was a point of contention all spring and in the early season, but it turns out that was the case more than anyone knew. Bryant, along with Phillies' rookie Maikel Franco, filed grievances against their teams over claims of service time manipulation, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
Bryant led spring training in homers but was sent down to the minors to work on his defense despite the fact the Cubs were playing failed prospect Mike Olt at Bryant's position of third base. When Olt was hurt, Bryant was called up, but it turned out to be one day too late for service time purposes: because Bryant only collected 171 days of service time rather than the necessary 172, the Cubs get to keep him under team control for an entire year more than they would have otherwise, delaying his free agency until 2021.
The only reason it was even that close was due to Olt's fractured wrist: the Cubs otherwise might have kept him in the minors for a few more days just to be safe. Franco's situation was nearly as blatant, as he debuted in 2014 but the Phillies refused to bring him up, even when a spot was available, until they had cleared the window for manipulation on May 15.
Filing a grievance guarantees nothing -- in fact, Bryant filed his back in April around the time of the suspected manipulation, and it hasn't been heard in arbitration yet. If nothing else, though, these filings represent a step toward making this a topic in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations, which will have to be sorted out by this time next year since the current CBA expires on Dec. 1.
It's hard to fault the teams for taking advantage of the current service time loophole, as its existence can create a competitive advantage when the opportunity to manipulate it comes up. The Cubs now presumably have another year of Kris Bryant's peak at pre-free agency costs because of when they called him up, and the Phillies will get the same from Franco. The loophole needs to be closed, but just how that will be accomplished is unknown.
Lowering the service time threshold so fewer than 172 days of active service are needed to complete a year is one way: if the threshold was, say, 100 days instead, teams like the Cubs would have to think hard about delaying Bryant's debut to gain an extra year, as a whole lot of meaningful, present-day games would be played before a date where service time could still be manipulated passes. Whether owners would go for that much of a change is unknown, but prepare to see this issue come up again and again over the course of the next year.