This week, pitchers and catchers should be reporting to camps in Arizona and Florida, and fans should be watching videos of players doing stretching exercising, and reading stories of who is in the best shape of their lives. Instead, baseball is mired in its third month of an owner lockout with a transaction freeze that has left fans in the cold.
Owners and players are at least talking, but progress has been very slow. Commissioner Rob Manfred remains a self-proclaimed optimist, telling reporters last week he believes Opening Day will still take place as scheduled.
“I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular schedule,” he said last week before owners issued their latest counterproposal on Saturday that reportedly left players “unimpressed.”
Owners have been in touch with players about a timetable to return if a deal can be struck soon, although no details have been made public. Manfred indicated to reporters that four weeks of spring training would be needed before the regular season could begin.
“I see missing games as a disastrous outcome for this industry. We’re committed to making an agreement in an effort to avoid that.”
Baseball has operated with a shorter spring training before, due to work stoppages. In 1976, owners locked players out from March 1 to March 17 in response to an independent arbitrator ruling that pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith could become free agents. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered camps open on March 18, and exhibition games began a few days later, with the regular season beginning on time on April 8.
In 1990, owners locked the players out in February to get a salary cap instituted. They worked out a new deal without cap by March 18, ending a 32-day lockout. Camps opened two days later, with exhibition games later that week. The regular season was pushed back one week to April 9, and the first week of games were eventually rescheduled during off-days to complete a full 162-game schedule.
In 1995, baseball was reeling from a player’s strike from the previous August that caused the cancellation of the World Series. Owners unilaterally imposed a salary cap and brought in replacement players for spring training in an attempt to break the strike. On March 31, Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, effectively ending the strike. Teams quickly planned for a spring training that would last about three weeks, with the regular season opener pushed back to April 26 with a shortened 144-game season.
How much spring training would players need today? Players arguably need more training time these days to get up to the pitch velocities and exit velocities of today’s game. On the other hand, some players have access to better training tools away from MLB facilities than they had in previous years. If you look at the social media pages of a lot of players, you can see them working out with state-of-the-art equipment.
Pitchers may need the extra time, considering we are just one year removed from a 60-game pandemic-shortened season. Players that were minor leaguers in 2020 did not get any game action that year, and could probably use a full slate of exhibition games to get warmed up (current minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster will begin spring training on time regardless of the work stoppage).
Missing spring training games also costs teams gate revenue, although it's only about $10 million per team. There may be rebates they have to offer to television partners for spring training games missed. Players won’t feel the financial pain yet, since they don’t get paid salaries during spring training, but they could begin missing paychecks if the season gets shortened.
Pushing back the season will be difficult with TV contracts already set for programming in October. So baseball will likely have to fit as many games in a six-month window as they can. The post-season TV money is most lucrative to owners, so a shorter season where they have to pay players less would actually be advantageous to them. That’s part of why they dragged their feet in negotiations with players in 2020 when many players were ready to come back much earlier in the summer.
So if players require a four-week spring training, with little leeway on moving Opening Day, that means this labor negotiation really needs to be wrapped up by the end of February. That gives owners and players two weeks to at least come to an understanding that will get owners to open camps back up. There is a lot of negative news that the two sides are not particularly close, but remember that both sides have a vested interest in making things seem bleak - they need the other side to move off their positions. On the issues, the two sides have differences, but they’re at least in the same ballpark. One wants a $214 million luxury tax threshold, the other wants a $245 million threshold. There’s a number in between that can work for both.
The Royals are supposed to open the season in Cleveland on March 31. Right now that appears to be in doubt. Let’s hope that negotiations can pick up the pace and we can see Salvy, Whit, Nicky, and maybe even Bobby Witt Jr. by the end of March.
How many games will the Royals play in 2022?
This poll is closed
Less than 120
There will be no season this year.