The Month That Was in Baseball: March 2022
There Was No Baseball…And Then, There Was
The Humidor Becomes Ominpresent • The NFL-like Scores of Spring Training
Tuesday, March 1
Rob Manfred’s “disastrous outcome” has, for the moment, become reality. After talks break down between Major League Baseball owners and players in Jupiter, Florida, the commissioner follows through with his self-imposed deadline—delayed after a promising marathon of progress the day before—and announces that each team’s first two series of the upcoming regular season, scheduled to begin on March 31, will be canceled. This is baseball’s ninth work stoppage tied to labor strife; four of those, including this one, have come via lockout by the owners. But this is the first such lockout that threatens to lead to missed regular season games.
Coming into the day, league officials are giving rosy assessments of the situation, while union reps are far more measured in their opinions. While a number of issues are basically solved, the two sides remain far apart in several areas—including the luxury tax threshold and the amount of money to be tossed into a pre-arbitration pool. Toward the end of the afternoon, MLB comes to the union with what’s termed its “best, last and final offer”—which the union flat out rejects. With that, the two sides give up after nine straight days of intensive negotiations, leaving the only activity left on the day to hold pressers in which one side knocks the other.
This lockout, situation and now apparent shortening of the 2022 regular season all comes courtesy of MLB management. For nearly two months after initiating the lockout, there were no talks as the union, which had introduced the most recent proposal, patiently awaited the league’s counteroffer. It was hoped—and expected—that the scheduled start of Spring Training would light a fire under both sides to be more urgent and get a deal done. The pace finally picked up into a frenzy during the last week of February, but in the end it was too little, too late.
And now for some perspective: The value of MLB franchises has jumped wildly, despite Manfred’s claims to the contrary. Teams receive revenue through endless sponsors, rich regional TV contracts, a thriving online presence and, more recently, real estate. Meanwhile, players’ salaries have dipped 6% since 2017, and the median salary—the point where half the players are below and the other half above—has dropped 30%. MLB’s glacial pacing to push back negotiations to the cliff, timewise, has only given it tactical advantage over the union.
After two rocky years due to the pandemic, MLB is taking a mighty risk. Yes, the fans eventually came back after an egregious work stoppage in 1994-95. But back then, there was no Netflix, no TikTok, no MLS and no PornHub. Baseball has far more to compete with these days than ever before—and the owners are okay crapping on their own product, just to carve out a little more strength and equity for themselves.
Wednesday, March 2
A day after the breakdown in negotiations and the initial cancelation of regular season games, the reaction is intense—and heavily tilted against MLB ownership and commissioner Rob Manfred, who didn’t score many PR points by practicing his golf swings during negotiations, then hours later smiling and chuckling during a chat with reporters. Here’s a sampling of what people on the outside had to say:
Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic: “It’s not simply that Manfred at times smiled during his news conference Tuesday when he should have been more solemn; by now, his inadequacies as a public speaker are well-established. The bigger problem is that he and the owners have been unable to build a functional relationship with the players, and are unapologetic about it….The owners wanted to win in another rout. Now everyone loses.”
Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders: “The 30 Major League Baseball owners are worth over $100 billion. The value of their teams increased by more than $41 billion since they bought them. Mr. Manfred: End the lockout. Negotiate in good faith. Don’t let the greed of baseball owners take away our national past time.”
Barry Svrluga, Washington Post: “But what was needed here—not just over the past week but over the preceding years—was someone looking out for the sport as a whole, someone who cares deeply about the game itself but is simultaneously clearheaded enough to recognize its tenuous position in the American entertainment landscape….Manfred is not that person….It’s not breaking news that we’re no longer in the times of a Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, times when a commissioner could rule with an iron fist, answering to nothing but his own judgment. Manfred has 30 bosses—the owners of his 30 franchises—and to some extent is hamstrung by their wishes.”
Tyler Kepner, New York Times: “Manfred insisted last month that canceling games would be a “disastrous outcome” for the sport, yet he will not own that disaster—or express any regret over failing to earn the trust of players as grievances built and tensions simmered.”
Zachary Rymer, Bleacher Report: “For all the drastic actions (that the owners have) taken, they have neither a new deal nor control of the narrative to show for it. All they’ve really succeeded in doing is wasting everyone’s time. Before they waste any more, they should remember that it is not and has never been the owners who draw fans to the ol’ ballgame.”
Andy McCullough, The Athletic: “(The owners) might not break the union. But they will break something.”
Thursday, March 3
Reps for the owners and players meet “informally” for the first time since the end of the Jupiter talks. If anything else, the chat serves as a reset, an attempt to jumpstart negotiations, though no core issues are discussed. No word on when they’ll next meet.
While the players’ union totally rejected MLB’s “last, best and final” offer before the two sides broke apart on March 1, four owners weren’t thrilled with it either—because they felt it was too generous to the players. This, according to SNY’s Andy Martino, whose article states that the four hardline Lords—those for the Angels, Reds, Tigers and Diamondbacks—want the luxury tax threshold to remain at $210 million, the “status quo.” MLB’s most recent offer to the players was for a threshold of $220 million; the players want a minimum of $230 million. “Going forward, it’s hard to see exactly how the commissioner will be able to both please 23 owners and the union,” Martino wrote. “And perhaps more to the point, it’s hard to see enough owners recognizing the urgency of getting back on the field.”
One would think that Angels owner Arte Moreno—who’s made a habit of nonchalantly overpaying for the likes of Josh Hamilton, Vernon Wells and a later-day Albert Pujols—would not be one of these guys to fight any increase in the threshold.
When does someone in the room with power cite “the best interests of baseball”?
Friday, March 4
With regular season games looking to be canceled, the players’ union announces that it will donate $1 million to ballpark workers who work the aisles, take the tickets and sell the beer. Almost on cue, MLB breaks out and says, um, yeah, sure, we’ll do that too—matching the union’s $1 million offer.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the union says it could bend on its insistence for no more than 12 playoff teams in exchange for a more favorable offer from MLB. It had been agreed, before negotiations broke down, that the postseason would be increased to 12 teams—although the owners wanted it expanded to 14, because…you know, TV money. Any give by the union to allow 14 playoff teams would be frowned upon by the baseball public, the majority of which isn’t thrilled to see more inferior teams sneak into October, get hot, and win it all despite a mediocre record.
To no one’s surprise, MLB cancels another week’s worth of scheduled Spring Training games, meaning the earliest that exhibitions will now start is March 17.
Sunday, March 6
The first formal proposal traded between players and owners in almost a week is dead on arrival, according to management after it sees what the union has to offer. MLB spokesperson Glen Caplin describes the union’s proposal as “worse than (the previous offer)”, adding that “on some issues, they even went backwards.” He sums it up by describing negotiations as “deadlocked”.
Caplin’s grousing comes in spite of the fact that the union actually gives in on several rules changes that MLB has been salivating over for the last few years. Players give the league the go-ahead to implement, starting in 2023, a pitch clock, enlarged bases and a ban on defensive shifts. It even says that MLB can implement other rule changes unilaterally on just 45 days’ notice during a season, as opposed to waiting until the following year.
So here we go. Rather than discipline hitters to adjust to the fabric of the game that very few have complained about for the last 120 years, we’ll see new rules that instead cater to their indulgences. The banning of certain defensive shifts will certainly be chafed at because hitters refuse to adjust by bunting or hitting the other way; after all, if a team tries to exploit your strength, you respond by creating a new weakness. The shift ban rewards them for their refusal to adapt.
The pitch clock—14 seconds when no one is on base, 19 seconds when one or more are on—seems redundant to what’s already in the rulebook: Rule 8.04. Whatever; the scoreboard will count down the seconds, and the crowd can count it down aloud to make sure everyone on the field is paying attention.
As for bigger bases, of course it will try and spark a new era of aggressive basestealing, which has gradually become a lost art over the last 25 years. It might also protect defenders from crashing with or being spiked by baserunners.
Finally, we wouldn’t be bugged by the 45-day notice if sane, knowledgeable baseball people were in charge of making any adjustments. But that’s not quite the reality right now. Any changes could be driven by owners and lawyers who care little for the sanctity of the game and thus could potentially make a mockery of it.
Monday, March 7
A week after MLB officially cancels the first week of regular season games with no chance of them being made up, it now says this: A 162-game season is still an option. But a new Collective Bargaining Agreement has to be finalized in the next day or two for that to happen.
Tuesday, March 8
Fridays on MLB will belong to Apple TV, which signs a deal with the league to televise a game each Friday night exclusively on its subscription service. Such games will not be carried on regional sports networks or mlb.tv—but according to the computing giant, games will “initially” be available on Apple TV without a subscription.
Wednesday, March 9
Baseball fans get sucker punched with a nasty case of déjà vu, as for the second time in nine days what appears to be a promising path toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and an end to the near-100-day lockout instead heads straight off the cliff and into the abyss.
There finally seems to be common ground on the most contentious issues of negotiations: The luxury tax threshold, pre-arbitration pool money, draft lottery, etc. But almost out of nowhere, MLB makes a big deal out of an international draft. This was something reportedly tossed around in earlier talks between the two sides, but hardly an issue considered crucial. Suddenly MLB makes it so, even knowing that the players had previously and firmly rejected the idea. So, using another arbitrary deadline and wielding the threat of losing more regular season games, it gives the players something of an ultimatum: Accept one of three paths toward an international draft, or no deal. The union, rather stunned, says no deal. And just like that, talks end for the day. It’s reported that they’ll meet again tomorrow.
Immediately after the latest breakdown, MLB announces that a second week of regular season games will be canceled. The earliest the league says that the season will now start is April 14—something many in the social mediasphere note as the day before the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the majors.
Owners wouldn’t dare toss aside baseball on that day, would they? Of course they would. To them, power and money speaks louder than history.
In a written statement, the union says that MLB’s latest canceling of games is “completely unnecessary” and that it had made a counteroffer to the league’s multiple-choice, take-it-or-leave it offer—but didn’t hear back. Commissioner Rob Manfred, in a statement of his own, says that the owners went to “extraordinary lengths to meet the substantial demands of the MLBPA” and that there is “hope (the union) will ultimately choose to accept the fair agreement they have been offered.”
On the international draft: It seems interesting that MLB would suddenly drop this on the union as the last issue standing at the 11th hour. That’s because it may feel that the draft has the potential to split the union; with nearly 30% of the major league workforce born outside of territory subject to the domestic draft, those “outsiders” worry that an international draft would reduce recruiting and thus discourage young kids dreaming of an MLB future. The other 70% might think otherwise; there have been stories in the past in which those subject to the domestic draft are unhappy being deprived of the financial and vocational options enjoyed by the international players, who can be signed by any team they choose if the price is right. We’ll see if the owners are right—and cracks begin to appear in the union’s armor.
Thursday, March 10
Ninety-nine days after it began, the lockout of MLB players is over. Owners and the players’ union continue their talks a day after they had appeared to again collapse, but once the issue of an international draft is resolved—its fate is actually punted to a later date—all the other issues, with competing numbers too close to throw one’s hands up in the air over, are bridged and a deal completed.
MLB rescinds its cancelation of a second week of regular season games and insists that a 162-game schedule will be played in 2022—with three extra days added to the original sked to make up for lost time, as well as doubleheaders during the season. Oh, by the way: Those doubleheaders will be nine innings, not seven.
Interestingly, all eight members of the union’s executive committee who has a vote on the final proposal turn it down—but overall, 18 of 30 player reps say yes. On the owners’ side, four of 30 vote against: The Mets, Yankees, Astros and Cardinals. (Some sources have it at 30-0.)
Here’s a quick review of what’s in the new CBA:
- An increase of postseason teams from 10 to 12. The two best teams in each league, by the record, will be given a bye in the first round.
- There will be no 163rd tiebreaker game to advance to the postseason, owing to a lack of available time with the expanded postseason. Instead, tiebreaker formulas will determine which team gets the edge.
- The designated hitter will be universal. Pitchers will no longer be required to hit in either league.
- The draft will now include a lottery involving the top six teams on the board. It’s theorized that this will deter tanking.
- To curtail service-time manipulation, the top two players in each league’s Rookie of the Year vote will be given a full year of service time. Also, teams that field rookies on Opening Day who end up among the top vote-getters in the three major awards (Rookie of the Year, MVP, Cy Young Award) will be rewarded with extra draft picks. (The Baseball Writers Association of America is cool at best to this idea, since writers are now worried that their votes will dictate service and salaries.)
- A luxury tax threshold of $230 million, rising to $244 million in 2026, the final year of the approved Basic Agreement.
- An increased minimum salary of $700,000, rising to $780,000 in 2026.
- Advertisements will be placed on players’ uniforms and batting helmets.
With the end of the lockout, spring camps are open for all players.
Among the more interesting little tidbits buried in the 182-page Basic Agreement signed by players and owners is this: Should the All-Star Game be tied after nine innings, they’ll settle it…with a Home Run Derby. The details have yet to be ironed out, but that’s the basic premise.
Sad news to report from Venezuela, where former pitcher Odalis Perez has died at age 44 after an accidental fall from a ladder in his home. A good hurler in his time, Perez always seemed to have the hardest luck acquiring victories; the best example of this came in 2004 when he finished 7-6 despite 31 starts. Only twice did Perez total 10 or more wins, maxing out at 15 (with a 3.00 ERA) in his lone All-Star season of 2002. Perez played from 1998-2008, furnishing a 73-82 record and 4.46 ERA.
Friday, March 11
The floodgates didn’t quite open as anticipated as teams were allowed to sign free agents for the first time since the 99-day lockout began, but there were still some noticeable transactions.
Clayton Kershaw will be returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year, $17 million deal; it will be his 15th season at Chavez Ravine. Carlos Rodon, who discovered Cy Young Award-level greatness (highlighted by a no-hitter) with the Chicago White Sox last year, is rewarded with a two-year, $44 million contract with San Francisco; he can opt out after the first year. Four-time Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose star has faded of late, inks for one year and $4 million with the Chicago Cubs. And pitcher Martin Perez is returning to the Texas Rangers after three years split between the New York Yankees and Minnesota.
Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, forced to sit out half of last season after allegations of an abusive relationship surfaced, will be asked to sit out another week so that MLB officials can interview him. Although charges against him were recently dropped by the Los Angeles County D.A., MLB can still decide on its own if any punishment is warranted.
Cubs manager David Ross is given an extension through 2024. The popular former Cubs player has found the going as manager to be a little tougher, as Chicago struggled for much of the 2021 season after a strong start—leading to a fire sale of its veteran stars.
The pandemic may be increasingly behind us, but Canadian officials are reminding us that it’s not quite over. Unvaccinated players will not be allowed from America into Toronto to take on the Blue Jays—and MLB says that they won’t be paid for the forced time off, either. This could create some havoc for teams—especially those in the AL East, who each play nine-to-10 games at Toronto—that still have a number of players who have yet to get the shots, for whatever reasons.
Saturday, March 12
The Oakland A’s, widely expected to drain their existing talent toward other teams this offseason, make a big move toward that realization by trading 2021 All-Star pitcher Chris Bassitt to the New York Mets for minor league pitchers Adam Oller and J.T. Ginn. Bassitt was 12-4 in 27 starts last season, a campaign shortened by a month after getting hit in the face by a comebacker late in the year.
The White Sox make two important adds, signing veteran infielder Josh Harrison and former Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly. Harrison logged 138 games, the second highest total of his career, in 2021 between the A’s and Washington Nationals, hitting a combined .279 with 33 doubles, eight home runs and 60 RBIs. The 33-year-old Kelly finished his third year with Los Angeles last season with a 2.86 ERA over 48 appearances and is known for a fiery fastball…and a sometimes fiery disposition.
The Jays resume building up their rotation for the upcoming season by signing former Seattle starter Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year, $36 million contract. The 30-year-old southpaw is 15-24 and 4.97 ERA in three seasons of MLB experience; he was 7-9 mark and 4.41 ERA in 2021.
The Texas Rangers ship four-year infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa to Minnesota in exchange for catcher Mitch Garver. With the addition of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, Kiner-Falefa was deemed expendable, but the Twins (momentarily) welcome the young Hawaii native’s overall package of hitting and speed (.271 average, 20 steals in 2021) and defense (Gold Glove in 2020). Garver adds not only backstop strength to the Rangers but slugging strength as well; he was one of a record five Twins to hit at least 30 homers in 2019, smacking 31 over just 311 at-bats.
Sunday, March 13
The Twins continue to be highly active in the post-lockout transactions sphere. Early in the day, they send 18-year-old pitching prospect Chase Petty, the Twins’ #1 pick in last year’s draft, to Cincinnati in exchange for veteran starting pitcher Sonny Gray (7-9, 4.19 ERA over 26 starts in 2021). But then comes the blockbuster late in the evening; Minnesota trades former AL MVP Josh Donaldson, catcher Ben Rortvedt and infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa—whom the Twins had just acquired the day before—to the New York Yankees for catcher Gary Sanchez and shortstop Gio Urshela. Donaldson will get the third base job at New York while Urshela can claim the spot in Minnesota after looking uncomfortable when forced to play shortstop last year. Kiner-Falefa will be at short with the Yankees, and Sanchez likely becomes the primary catcher in Minnesota, especially after Mitch Garver was sent packing to Texas.
Nelson Cruz inks for one year and $15 million with the Washington Nationals, as NL teams quickly seek designated hitters with the position becoming universal for 2022. The 41-year-old Cruz played all but one of his 140 games last season in the DH (or pinch-hitting) role, cranking out 32 home runs combined between the Twins and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Colorado Rockies go fishing for free agents and reel in 10-year shortstop Jose Iglesias and closer Alex Colome. Iglesias’ signing all but puts to bed any speculation of the Rockies resigning Trevor Story; Colome will hope to right his ship after struggling with a 4.15 ERA in 2021—on top of a stellar 0.81 figure in the shortened 2020 season. With Coors Field, good luck.
Another former Tampa Bay closer, Brad Boxberger, is returning to Milwaukee on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The 33-year-old right-hander was a solid set-up reliever for the Brewers in 2021, producing a 5-4 record and 3.34 ERA in 71 appearances.
The Mets continued to stock up for a potentially promising 2022 campaign, bringing in reliever Adam Ottavino. At 36 years of age, Ottavino readies to play for his fourth team in as many seasons; last year, he was 7-3 with a 4.21 ERA and 11 saves for Boston.
Monday, March 14
There’s rough news out of San Diego Padres camp as it’s announced that star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. will miss the next three months with a broken wrist suffered during the offseason. Speculation immediately centers on the motorcycle accident Tatis was involved in while in his native Dominican Republic shortly after the lockout began in December. When asked directly about whether the motorcycle accident was the source of his injury, Tatis smiles back: “Which one?”
Nobody on the Padres’ side is smiling. After a rough end to a disappointing, below-.500 season in 2021, Tatis is badly needed to turn things around this year. But he won’t get the chance until June at the earliest—unless he performs one of his miraculous recoveries, as he did last year when bouncing back from numerous shoulder injuries.
The world champion Braves get their first baseman for 2022—and it won’t be Freddie Freeman. Atlanta trades four minor leaguers, including high-end prospects in catcher Shea Langeliers and outfielder Cristian Pache, to Oakland for Matt Olson, who impressively stroked 39 home runs along with 111 RBIs and a career-high .271 average last year. The move signals that the Braves are moving on from Freeman, not-so-arguably the heart and soul of the franchise over the past decade and who currently ranks #4 on our list of the Braves’ greatest hitters.
A former MVP has a new home as Andrew McCutchen has signed a contract with Milwaukee. The 35-year-old outfielder, a five-time All-Star and 2013 NL MVP, is not the same player of lore but still brings respectability to a Brewers team that would welcome his experience and attitude.
The Mariners appear to be all in on unseating Houston in the AL West after making a deal with the Reds that will send two of Cincinnati’s bigger offensive threats—slugging third baseman Eugenio Suarez and 2021 All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker—to Seattle in exchange for four players including promising right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn. Suarez is two years removed from a 49-homer season, and although he remains a power threat, he’s struggled to keep his average above the .200 mark over each of the last two years. Winker, on the other hand, is a rising star who started strong last year before injuries severely curtailed his second half; overall, he batted .305 with 32 doubles, 24 homers and 71 RBIs in just 110 games.
Mets slugger Pete Alonso goes for an unexpectedly wild ride on his way to spring camp in Florida when he’s broadsided by a distracted driver running a red light, flipping his car over three times. Alonso’s wife, driving right behind him, witnesses the whole event and “thought I watched my husband die in front of me,” as she later writes on social media. Miraculously, Alonso survives with nothing more than a scratch on his arm.
Jackie Robinson will have company in the bronze at Dodger Stadium as the Dodgers announce that they will erect a statue of legendary 1960s ace Sandy Koufax at Chavez Ravine. The unveiling of the state will take place on June 18 before the Dodgers’ game against Cleveland.
Tuesday, March 15
A day after arriving in Atlanta as the apparent heir apparent to Freddie Freeman, first baseman Matt Olson receives eight years and $168 million worth of security as he inks to stay long-term with the Braves. The contract will last through 2029, his age-35 season.
Wednesday, March 16
Headlining an active day of transactions, Freddie Freeman is now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The former Atlanta first baseman is signed for six years and $162 million, and joins a lineup that remains largely intact after a 106-win season in 2021.
Freeman later expresses his disappointment with the incumbent Braves, saying that they only called him twice during the offseason. Atlanta wanted to offer no more than five years; the Dodgers and the Rays offered six.
Though the Rays’ offer to Freeman contained slightly less overall money than the Dodgers, it would have netted him more value in the long run—because California has the highest income tax rate among the 50 U.S. states, while Florida has no such tax.
Third baseman and 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant, who starred for the Cubs before a late-season cameo last year with San Francisco, signs a seven-year, $182 million with the Colorado Rockies, thus becoming a star replacement for Nolan Arenado (long since gone to St. Louis). Bryant’s numbers have stagnated since hitting .292 with 39 homers and 102 RBIs in 2016 for the world champion Cubs, but he remains a big enough threat and could see his numbers explode at hitter-friendly Coors Field. However…it should be noted that in 16 career games at Coors, Bryant is batting .263 with just a pair of homers and nine RBIs—hardly gargantuan stuff.
Another big name is checked off the free agent list as Kyle Schwarber signs a four-year deal worth $80 million with Philadelphia, which will likely use him as a DH. Schwarber belted 32 homers combined between Washington and Boston in 2021, and it seemed almost all of them were hit in the month of June, when the 29-year old set a Nationals monthly record with 16 round-trippers. He does have six homers (among just 10 overall hits) in 62 career at-bats at the Phillies home base of Citizens Bank Park.
The most highly-touted foreign free agent is snapped up as Japanese star Seiya Suzuki signs for five years and $85 million with the Cubs. The 27-year-old outfielder’s numbers certainly warrants the wages; last season with Hiroshima, Suzuki batted .317 with 38 home runs, 88 RBIs and another 88 walks over 134 games.
As promised, the A’s continue to shed its best talent by sending third base standout Matt Chapman to Toronto, where he’ll become yet another big stick in an impressive Blue Jays lineup. Heading the other way to Oakland in the deal are four players, two of which (Kevin Smith and Kirby Snead) have barely gotten a whiff in the majors; among the other two, there’s Gunner Hoglund, Toronto’s first-round draft pick of last year who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. As for Chapman, he has retained pop in his bat (27 homers in 2021) and excellence with his glove, but batted just .210 last year with the A’s.
It’s just a thought, but perhaps before MLB helps to forge a new ballpark for the A’s, maybe it needs to first forge new ownership in Oakland? The A’s already have a small payroll and have yet jacked up ticket prices for 2022, all while majority owner John Fisher continues to rank among baseball’s richest owners.
Zack Greinke is returning to where it all began for him in the majors, signing a one-year, $13-million contract with Kansas City. The 38-year-old right-hander won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with the Royals, his best of seven seasons in Missouri before moving on to bigger things in bigger cities. With Houston in 2021, Greinke was 11-6 with a 4.16 ERA; his 3,110 innings thrown through 18 seasons is the most by any active MLB pitcher.
A couple of Atlanta’s second-half stars have new contracts. Postseason hero Eddie Rosario is returning to the Braves for two years and $18 million, hoping to contribute more on a full-time basis. Meanwhile, Joc Pederson—he of the pearls and swagger in the Braves’ path to the championship podium—has split Georgia and signed with the Giants for one year and $6 million.
A year after the minor leagues were rebranded with generic titles, historic names have been restored to the appropriate circuits—meaning that you can now again call Triple-A West the Pacific Coast League, Triple-A East the International League, and so on. Turns out that MLB, which took complete charge of the minors a year ago, didn’t officially own the rights to the various names, but spent the past year taking care of business to buy out the brands. So fans from Tacoma to Gwinnett can wax nostalgic once more.
Thursday, March 17
The season’s first Spring Training games are held nearly three weeks after they were originally slated to begin, before the lockout delayed things. There’s one game in Florida as Boston pummels the Minnesota Twins, 14-1, while out west in Arizona the White Sox sweep a pair of seven-inning split-squad games over the Cubs and Colorado defeats Arizona, 5-3. Minor leaguers dominate the lineups for these games, as camps have been open for only less than a week—but with only three weeks given to the exhibition season, expect the veterans to feature more quickly.
Trevor Bauer will continue to be paid for doing nothing. His ‘administrative leave’ is pushed back nearly another month to April 16, nine days after the start of the regular season, as MLB continues to do its own investigation into the allegations that he committed sexual assault and battery upon a woman last year.
The Cubs hand a one-year, $6 million pact to free agent infielder Jonathan Villar, who’s baseball’s version of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. The 30-year-old Villar has had some strong campaigns (2016 Brewers, 2019 Orioles) and some downright disappointing ones; he was a more stable (if unremarkable) presence last year for the Mets.
Friday, March 18
A couple of days after losing Freddie Freeman to Los Angeles, the Braves get even by signing all-time Dodgers saves leader Kenley Jansen to a one-year deal worth $16 million. Among active pitchers, only Craig Kimbrel has more career saves than the 34-year-old Jansen—and no previous Dodgers pitcher has accumulated even half as many as Jansen’s 350. The veteran of 12 seasons still had it in 2021, saving 38 games while posting a 2.22 ERA over 69 appearances.
Looking to fill the void of the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. as well as a DH slot, San Diego trades for 2020 home run champ Luke Voit, sending Justin Lange, the Padres’ first-round draft pick of 2020, to the Yankees. Voit led all major leaguers with 22 homers in the pandemic-shortened campaign two years ago, but has become the odd man out with Anthony Rizzo staying put at first base in New York.
Saturday, March 19
All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa has a new team, signing with the Minnesota Twins for three years and $105.3 million. The 27-year-old former Astro will have opt-outs after each of his first two seasons, so his stay at Target Field could be a short one. Still, the Twins have bulked up their roster with the recent additions of Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela and Sonny Gray, suggesting that they’re far from content hanging around the lower rung of the AL Central.
Another big name taken off the active free agent list is All-Star outfielder Nick Castellanos, who agrees to a five-year, $100 million deal with Philadelphia. Like the Twins, the Phillies look to be more in a go-for-it mode, having earlier brought in Kyle Schwarber to an already impressive batting lineup.
One former Twin leaves to play elsewhere as burly pitcher Michael Pineda signs a one-year deal with Detroit. The 33-year-old right-hander finished the 2021 season hot, going 5-0 in September to end the year with a respectable 9-8 record and 3.62 ERA with Minnesota.
Jorge Soler, one of Atlanta’s late-season stars of 2021 and MVP of its victorious World Series, signs a three-year, $36 million contract with the Miami Marlins. After a poor start to the year with Kansas City, where two years earlier he led the AL with 48 homers, Soler came alive with the Braves, belting 14 jacks over 55 games before adding three more among six total hits in 20 Fall Classic at-bats against Houston.
Atlanta fans, perhaps jokingly, take the signing in stride—suggesting that the penurious Marlins would eventually trade Soler back to the Braves later this season, as they did last year with Adam Duvall.
Sunday, March 20
This offseason’s last major free agent is plucked off the tree as Trevor Story signs with the Red Sox for six years and $140 million. Although the former Colorado Rockie preferred a new home playing shortstop, he will likely take over at second base in Boston as All-Star Xander Bogaerts remains firmly ensconced on the other side of the infield. Story batted .272 and averaged 34 home runs, 39 doubles, 98 runs knocked in and 101 scored per 162 games with the Rockies.
Monday, March 21
The Rockies waive off infielder Ryan McMahon’s last two years of arbitration and hand him a five-year, $70 million extension. The 27-year-old McMahon batted .254 with 23 home runs and 86 RBIs last season with Colorado.
While all other major league pitchers are getting themselves warmed up for the regular season by tossing one, two or maybe three innings, Max Scherzer makes his Spring Training debut with the Mets by going five full frames—allowing a run on three hits and no walks and 72 total pitches (55 for strikes). The Mets end up losing to the Marlins, 3-0.
In another MLB spring game of note, the Rangers bludgeon Cleveland at Goodyear, Arizona by a 25-12 score. Texas scores in every inning but the first and racks up 27 total hits off 11 Cleveland pitchers; nine additional baserunners reached via walk or HBP. It’s the most runs scored by a team in a spring game since 2006—and perhaps ever, but someone has to do the research without beelining to Baseball Reference’s Stathead site, which doesn’t include exhibition games.
Tuesday, March 22
Just when we thought it was dead and buried in the trash bin of history, the dreaded gift runner, or zombie runner or Manfred Man, looks to be back. MLB players agree to allow the “automatic” baserunner on second base for every half inning once a game goes into extras—but only for the 2022 season.
Also added is a new rule informally named after Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, in which any pitcher who begins the game batting as a designated hitter can remain in the latter spot even if he’s removed from the mound.
Tuesday is arbitration deadline day as players either agree to 2022 contracts or ask for salaries higher than what their teams are offering. Overall, 31 players will go to arbitration to resolve their differences, with the largest amount of money at stake belonging to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge—who wants $21 million versus the Yankees’ offer of $17 million.
Wednesday, March 23
New York mayor Eric Adams announces the lifting of a mandate that would have prevented unvaccinated MLB players from playing at either Citi Field or Yankee Stadium. The new hizzoner had previously told the Mets and Yankees to be patient on the mandate, in a sort of “get to the back of the line” message as he dealt with numerous other issues, both COVID- and non-COVID-related.
Thursday, March 24
Toronto trades outfielder Randall Grichuk to Colorado, receiving speedy Raimel Tapia in return. Grichuk batted .241 with 22 home runs and 81 RBIs last season with the Blue Jays, but appears to be the fourth man on the outfielding depth chart for 2022. Tapia, too, was a starter in the outfield for the Rockies in 2021, hitting .271 with six homers, 50 RBIs and 20 steals.
Two-time All-Star reliever and prominent union rep Andrew Miller calls it a career at age 36. Drafted by Detroit, the tall left-hander was considered one of the top prospects acquired by the Marlins in the mammoth eight-player, 2008 trade that sent star players Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers. Failing as a starter, Miller found a much more successful baseball life coming out of the bullpen; by 2016, he was a white-hot component in the Cleveland pen, going 10-1 with a 1.45 ERA over 70 appearances, followed by a sensational postseason in which he allowed only three runs over 19.1 innings with 30 strikeouts as the Indians fell a game short of the Cubs in the World Series. Over 29 career playoff games, Miller posted a terrific 0.93 ERA.
Max Stassi will remain a member of the Los Angeles Angels for another three years as he signs an extension totaling $17.5 million. As a part-timer in 2021, the 31-year-old Stassi batted .241 with 13 homers while displaying solid defense behind the plate.
Friday, March 25
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is given a three-year extension through 2025 (terms not disclosed), and promptly celebrates by guaranteeing that Los Angeles would win the World Series this season. “It’s something that I just believe,” he says. In six years piloting the Dodgers, Roberts has led the team to five NLCS appearances, three NL pennants and one World Series title (2020).
MLB announces that it will continue to crack down on sticky substances used by pitchers for the 2022 season, after instituting the measure about a third of the way into last season. Two pitchers were suspended for sticking with the sticky stuff, but everyone else abided by the rule (or got away with it).
Saturday, March 26
The humidor, which first debuted at Colorado’s Coors Field in the mid-2000s to curb the runaway hitting taking place at that mile-high ballpark—and which also was used in eight other ballparks last year—will be put into mandatory use at all 30 MLB venues this season. Interestingly, while the use of the humidor will moisten the baseball in dry climates, it can actually do the opposite in more humid locations, making the ball relatively dry and giving an added advantage to the hitter. Pitchers typically like the humidor as well, since they can get a better grip on a drier ball—an important consideration given MLB’s just-extended crackdown on sticky substances.
Veteran outfielder Tommy Pham signs a deal with the Reds, where he should get the opportunity for everyday play given that the team is minus two All-Star outfielders from a year ago: Jesse Winker (traded to Seattle) and Nick Castellanos (signed with Philadelphia). The 34-year-old Pham isn’t shy about his latest chance, calling this upcoming season a “revenge tour” (upon whom, we don’t know), while admitting, “I’m playing to get my numbers, man. I’m being dead honest with you. There is nothing selfish about it…I have to get mine right now.” With San Diego last season, Pham hit .229 with 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 14 steals in 155 games.
The A’s may be dealing away their younger stars, but they’re loading up on key pieces of yesteryear. A day after bringing back 37-year-old catcher Stephen Vogt, the A’s re-sign infielder Jed Lowrie, who turns 38 in April and continues to make a comeback from knee issues that basically made him invisible during two frustrating years with the Mets from 2019-20. He returned to Oakland last season and returned to everyday action, batting .245 with 14 homers and 69 RBIs over 139 games.
Sunday, March 27
Albert Pujols is returning to St. Louis, likely as a DH for the team he played his best baseball for from 2001-11. During his first tenure with the Cardinals, Pujols won three MVPs, two World Series rings, earned nine All-Star spots and was consistently potent enough to rank high on our list of the Cardinals’ greatest hitters. The 42-year-old Pujols is not expected to play every day given that he’s worn down over time, but should he get the opportunity there are a few milestones to consider; he needs 21 home runs to reach 700 for his career, and 31 to pass Stan Musial for the most by a Redbird.
Top Arizona talent Ketel Marte adds to his current contract that will now pay $76 million over five years through 2027; he had been due to become a free agent after the 2022 season. Last year, the switch-hitting infielder/outfielder batted .318 with 14 home runs, 29 doubles and 50 RBIs over just 90 games as he was otherwise hampered by injuries.
Monday, March 28
Chris Archer will try yet another jumpstart to his career, as the 33-year-old right-hander signs a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Minnesota. Archer has steadily declined since being traded by Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh in 2018; even a return to the Rays last year merited him little success on the comeback front.
Another former Rays star, Evan Longoria, continues to have a frustrating tenure with San Francisco. It’s announced that the veteran third baseman will have surgery on his finger and likely won’t be ready to play until well after Opening Day. Longoria missed nearly half of last season with the Giants after a rough infield collision with shortstop Brandon Crawford; his overall play with the Giants has been disappointing, relative to his 10 years before that in St. Petersburg.
Tuesday, March 29
Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, still awaiting word from MLB on whether he’ll be allowed to pitch anytime soon, files a lawsuit against The Athletic and reporter Molly Knight for “knowingly publishing false information” in a statement released on his Twitter account. Bauer claims that Knight, who is no longer employed by The Athletic, wrote (and tweeted) that Bauer’s wild activity with a female who charged him with sexual assault last year resulted in a fractured skull for the woman. Nonsense, Bauer claims—further claiming that Knight had access to all information regarding the case and that there was no such evidence of any such injury, thereby charging that she knowingly reported false information.
This is the second lawsuit filed by Bauer against the media. The other is against Deadspin, which, wow, still exists.
Wednesday, March 30
Nine days after the Rangers put up 25 runs in what was considered, unofficially, the highest output ever by an MLB team in a Spring Training game, the Cardinals do them four better in a ridiculous 29-8 thumping of Washington. It’s actually a normal rout, with the Cardinals leading, 13-4, when they pile up 15 runs in the eighth inning. That, too, may be a spring camp record. The game is otherwise noted for the return in a Cardinals uniform of 42-year-old Albert Pujols, who after stroking a single receives a text message that his wife Deidre has successfully undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor.
MLB announces the first annual Home Run Derby X, in which former major leaguers (Adrian Gonzalez, Jonny Gomes, Geovany Soto and Nick Swisher), team with softball stars and up-and-coming prospects to represent an MLB team and try to hit home runs within a theatrical environment in worldwide locales. The teams to be represented are the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Cubs; the first Derby X is slated for London in July, with stops later in the year planned in Seoul and Mexico City.
Thursday, March 31
MLB and the players’ union have agreed on rules tweaks to account for the condensed season on the day that the regular season was supposed to begin. First and worst thing first: The automatic “gift” runner on second base in extra innings will be back for at least one more season, as the pandemic lingers and the winter lockout of players forces MLB to play a 162-game season practically one week less than originally planned. Due to the shortened Spring Training, teams will be allowed to begin the regular season with 28 players; on May 1, that number will go down to the normal 26. Finally, there’s the introduction of the Shohei Ohtani rule, in which any pitcher who begins the game in the batting lineup can stay there after his removal, becoming the designated hitter. It’s informally named after Ohtani, the two-way player and reigning AL MVP, who under old rules would have to depart the lineup if removed from a starting pitching assignment.
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