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Just how close are we to missing some baseball this spring due to MLB’s lockout?

Closer than you think, because owners and players are not close to a deal.

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Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hi, everyone! It’s February!

That means two things:

  • It should be the month of pitchers and catchers reporting, and spring games beginning, and...
  • In another day, the MLB owners’ lockout will be entering its third month.

My goodness, where does the time go? Third month? Why, it seems like the lockout just began...

Seriously, though, this time has flown by and since the lockout began December 2, MLB players and owners have met twice. Some progress was made, as I noted here last week, but there have been no meetings since then. There is one scheduled for today, though:

While any talks are good, and I'll report on any results of those meetings when they're available, we are starting to get into crunch time.

MLB Spring Training games are scheduled to begin in full Saturday, February 26 (there are three MLB vs. college teams scheduled in Florida the day before). That’s just 24 days from now. We’re getting close to having things pushed back, cancelled or delayed.

Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal wrote this long article in The Athletic Monday which indicates just how far apart players and owners are:

As the owners’ lockout drags into its third month, the essence of the problem is this: Major League Baseball contends it is proposing a better deal for players than the one they had under the most recent collective bargaining agreement. And the Players Association contends that the deal is worse.

The acceleration of talks is hardly out of the question; in labor negotiations, it’s always darkest before the dawn. But Scott Boras, the game’s most prominent agent, said the players are dug in not only because their salaries are declining, but also because franchise values, even as profits have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to soar.

Since 2002, all four of the major U.S. sports leagues have performed better than the S&P 500 companies on the stock market, according to Pitchbook. The return on MLB franchises was 669 percent, above the NFL’s 558 percent and exceeded only by the NBA’s 1,057 percent.

“History has told a story that the players now understand,” Boras said. “And the history is that, what you negotiate from is appreciation of franchise values and revenue increases . . . From the players’ perspective, it is about how successful this game is from those two perspectives. And they want fairness. Players want fairness in the success of the game.”

Now, you might not think much of Scott Boras, but here he is 100 percent correct. All those appreciations in franchise value and increases in revenue? They’re because baseball fans have wanted more and more of what the players do on the field. Without the top MLB players, MLB teams are nothing.

So just how close are we to missing games, either spring or regular season or both? ESPN’s Jesse Rogers wrote this helpful article with various dates we should keep in mind as they get closer. I post them here for your information, and have a few comments on each.

Feb. 15 (44 days from Opening Day): Pitchers and catchers report

When to worry: Feb. 8

Rogers writes that if a deal is made by the 8th — that’s just a week from today — you’d probably see a rush of signings, with players making mad scrambles to report by the official dates (which haven’t been released, but as noted are likely around February 15-16 for pitchers and catchers and a couple days later for position players). But, says former Cub Steve Cishek:

“Right now, guys don’t know if they should find a place to rent [for housing in spring training] or if it’s possible to put a clause in the renters agreement to be protected if we don’t make it for spring,” Cishek said. “Stuff like that is tough on young guys and guys with families, but hopefully we will iron it out in time.”

The next date to worry about:

Feb. 26 (33 days from Opening Day): Spring training games begin

When to worry: Feb. 19

Again, this date is coming up faster than you think. It’s less than three weeks from now. Rogers says a lot of players are working on their own, trying to get ready without knowing exact dates, and:

“I’m telling my starting pitchers to be ready to pitch three innings on Day 1,” one agent said last week. “They can always back off, if we start on time. But they can’t go in there with only a few weeks to prepare and pitch an inning. They’ll need to go up and down right away.”

And then, there’s the big one:

March 31: Opening Day

When to worry: March 3

March 3. That’s four weeks from Thursday. Rogers points out that the three weeks of “Summer Camp” in 2020 to get players ready for the 60-game season wasn’t really enough. Injuries were plentiful during the pandemic season. Rogers says at least four weeks of preparation are needed for an on-time season start, thus March 3 would be the drop-dead date.

And if a deal isn’t struck by early March, once again, players will receive $5,000 checks from the union and will need to be ready to either play fewer than 162 games or a condensed schedule with modified roster limits in order to fit all 162 in. It’s pretty much the doomsday scenario.

“I’m trying not to think that way,” another player stated about a delay. “We want to play a whole season. We should be able to be ready in three to four weeks, but I’m hoping for a full spring. I think the fans are as well.”

There isn’t much time, though, to accomplish that. I’m going to say right now — February 1 — that the games scheduled 25 days from now as the true start to the Cactus and Grapefruit League schedules won’t be played as scheduled... and it could be some time after that before a deal is made.

Hope I’m wrong. Perhaps today's talks will help.

Poll

Will the Spring Training games scheduled for February 26 be played as per the schedule?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Yes
    (36 votes)
  • 89%
    No
    (319 votes)
355 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Will the 2022 MLB season start on time?

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  • 26%
    Yes
    (88 votes)
  • 73%
    No
    (243 votes)
331 votes total Vote Now