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The lockout is over! What you need to know about what’s next

When do games begin, what do the Royals have to do?

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Los Angeles Dodgers vs Kansas City Royals, 2021 Spring Training Set Number: X163551 TK1

Baseball is back! You may have forgotten what the Royals have been up to, and what’s next, so here’s a handy primer on what you need to know about the return of baseball.

When does spring training start?

Players can begin reporting as soon as today, with players required to report by this Sunday. Games are tentatively scheduled to begin on March 18, although that has not been finalized yet and most likely they will be adding games to the spring training schedule.

When will the regular season start?

Major League Baseball pushed the start of the season one week, so the Royals will begin the season on Thursday, April 7 at 3:10 CT at home against the Cleveland Guardians. They’ll play a four-game set against Cleveland before traveling to St. Louis for a quick two-game series. The rest of the season schedule will be the same as it was before, except that they will try to fit in the games that were originally scheduled for the first week in dates later in the year, including doubleheaders. Despite talk about games being removed from the schedule, teams will play 162 games this year.

When can teams make trades and sign players?

Now! The transaction freeze ended last night. Teams were not allowed to discuss trades or contact free agents during the lockout, so it may take some time for transactions to occur. But there is also a sense of urgency with just four weeks to go before Opening Day and 250 free agents still unsigned.

What happens to arbitration-eligible players?

The Royals have seven players eligible for arbitration - catcher Cam Gallagher, infielders Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn, outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and pitchers Scott Barlow and Brad Keller. Teams will now have to work out deals with those players, and if they can’t come to agreement, they can exchange figures for arbitration by March 25. Those arbitration hearings will likely have to take place during the regular season. The Royals have only had one arbitration hearing under Dayton Moore, when Brandon Maurer lost his case in 2018. Arbitration contracts are now guaranteed too, teams can no longer cut an arbitration-eligible player in spring training and be relieved of most of his salary.

What about the Rule 5 draft?

It was canceled this year, as teams didn’t see enough time to devote to it with a compressed off-season schedule now. This might be good for the Royals, who have a much deeper farm system than in past years and left some decent players unprotected like outfielders Seuly Matias and Brewer Hicklen and pitchers Austin Cox and Zack Haake.

What has changed with the new labor deal?

You can see a more detailed discussion of the labor deal here, but some of the major changes you’ll see on the field are an expanded playoffs this year, with six teams from each league reaching the post-season - three division winners and three Wild Cards. The designated hitter rule will be used in the National League this year. Rosters will be limited to 13 hitters and 13 pitchers, although we could see expanded rosters to begin the year due to a short spring training. Players can only be optioned to the minor leagues five times per season, and there are incentives to keeping top prospects on the roster to begin the year. Rules implemented during the pandemic - seven-inning doubleheaders and a runner to begin each extra inning - will be repealed.

Who are the top unsigned free agents?

Carlos Correa tops the list, with Trevor Story also on the list of prime shortstops available. Freddie Freeman was believed to be headed back to the Braves, but more recent reports indicate they are not willing to pay his price and the Yankees could swoop in and get him. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Nicholas Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Schwarber are among the top sluggers available, as well as former Royals home run champ and World Series MVP Jorge Soler. Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki is also an intriguing free agent the Royals have been reported to be interested in.

Among the pitchers, Clayton Kershaw may be headed to his hometown Rangers. Carlos Rodón could attract attention after a nice bounceback season, Kenley Jansen tops the list of relievers, and former Royals pitchers like Danny Duffy, Zack Greinke, and Johnny Cueto are also available. You can see a list of free agents here.

What have the Royals done so far?

The Royals signed reliever Taylor Clarke to the bullpen just before the lockout to add depth to the bullpen. They signed veteran closer Arodys Vizcaino to a minor league deal, and also handed out minor league deals to infielder Ivan Castillo, outfielder JaCoby Jones, and pitchers Brad Peacock, Daniel Mengden, Sam Freeman, and Colton Brewer. They tendered contracts to their seven arbitration-eligible players and non-tendered pitcher Richard Lovelady (who had Tommy John surgery) before re-signing him on a minor league deal.

The Royals also parted ways with a few players, releasing first baseman Ryan McBroom and infielder Hanser Alberto and letting pitcher Jakob Junis elect free agency. They also designated infielder Lucius Fox and pitcher Kyle Zimmer for assignment, and outfielder Bubba Starling retired. Sixteen Royals minor leaguers also became free agents, including catcher Meibrys Viloria, infielder Jeison Guzman (signed by the Diamondbacks), infielder Erick Mejia (Mariners), and outfielder Rudy Martin (Nationals).

What do the Royals have left to do this off-season?

The Royals may be pretty well set with their roster, as they are banking on their young pitchers like Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Carlos Hernández, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar to continue to progress, and prospects like infielder Bobby Witt Jr., first baseman Nick Pratto, and catcher MJ Melendez to boost the offense.

But they could use some more arms in the bullpen, particularly from the left side, and General Manager J.J. Picollo has indicated relievers are a priority. They would like to move Santana if possible to make room for Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino. They could pursue a starting pitcher to add depth, but only at the right price.

This is also a team that lost 88 games last year and is feeling an urgency to win games under new ownership, so it is possible they make a splash with a big move.

Where can I watch the Royals?

The Royals still have an agreement with Bally Sports Kansas City, which is available on many cable and satellite packages. You can find available providers here. They have not yet released a 2022 television schedule. The only streaming-only option available currently is DIRECTV streaming.

There have been rumors Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns Bally Sports Kansas City, is developing their own stream-only, direct-to-consumer channel for each of their regional sports networks, but nothing has been announced yet. Apple+ also announced they will be broadcasting “Friday Night Baseball” games plus there will be nationally televised games on FOX, FS1, ESPN, and TBS.