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If there’s no MLB labor deal soon, Spring Training is going to be chaotic

There are more factors than just signing an agreement and saying, “We’re open!”

Sloan Park, spring home of the Cubs, where there might not be baseball for a while
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Tuesday, I posted this article on what was termed a “heated” meeting between MLB owners and players that lasted about 90 minutes. Little progress was made toward an agreement.

There is reportedly going to be another meeting Wednesday, but only to discuss “non-core” economic issues, and make no mistake, there isn’t going to be a deal until the core economic issues (largely surrounding service time manipulation and tanking) are settled.

The response by some to all this has been “Whatever,” that delaying Spring Training games or workouts isn’t a big deal and that the season could still start on time.

Sure, it could... but I’m here to tell you that the later this gets, the larger the amount of chaos there’s going to be surrounding Spring Training and the 2022 MLB regular season.

And it’s likely going to get later, as this note in a Washington Post article on the topic by Chelsea Janes points out:

MLB team owners are scheduled to attend their quarterly meetings in Orlando next week, and multiple people familiar with MLB’s and the union’s plans suggest those meetings will not leave much time for negotiating, given MLB leadership’s obligations to the owners.

If no progress comes by the end of those meetings Feb. 10, the sides will have five days to move from contentious meetings yielding little compromise to a complete agreement just to have a deal in place by the time pitchers and catchers are scheduled to arrive.

So realistically, if they don’t make a deal this week — and that seems extremely unlikely — we’re probably not going to see any progress before the pitcher/catcher report date. And that means a delay for Spring Training.

Why does that matter? Some say Spring Training is too long; those folks could be right, although it seems clear that the three weeks of “Summer Camp” for the truncated 2020 pandemic season wasn’t enough to help prevent injuries to players — which continued to happen in 2021 because even with a full spring camp last year, some players weren’t completely ramped up for a 162-game season.

Look at it this way. If this were a “normal” baseball year, teams would already — today, February 2 — have some players in spring camps doing informal workouts, with team staff and coaches in place to supervise. That’s obviously not happening. Those same players would have had to make living arrangements in Florida or Arizona, if those players don’t live there full-time in the offseason. That’s obviously not happening either. Players from countries outside the USA would have had to make work visa arrangements by now. I don’t know whether this is happening or not, but my assumption is that if a player (employee) is locked out of his work (baseball), the US government isn’t going to issue a work visa until that labor dispute is over.

Lastly, there are still over 200 free agents, unsigned players looking for jobs. That includes big names such as Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Clayton Kershaw, Nick Castellanos and others. There’s going to be a mad scramble to get work for these guys, and the longer this lockout goes, the more chaotic the scramble will be.

We stand about two weeks until pitchers and catchers are supposed to report to spring camps. From there it’s about 10 days until the first scheduled games. There has to be some ramp-up time from first workouts to first games, and remember there are no informal team workouts going on now.

The longer this lockout goes, the more the chance that Spring Training games are cancelled. And no matter what’s said about Spring Training being too long, there has to be some number of practice games before the real thing begins.

And that’s why I think Spring Training will be chaotic, and also why we are getting very close to the time when regular season games might be lost.

And that would be a dangerous road for Major League Baseball to travel.