Happy new year, everyone! And isn't it wonderful to put 2021 behind us, turn the page to 2022 and start gearing up for the start of spring training in six weeks ... er, hold the phone.
The calendar may have changed, but the state of Major League Baseball remains just as it was last month, with a lockout still in place and no evidence it's about to end anytime soon.
Not that any of this should surprise you. When the collective bargaining agreement expired Dec. 1 and the league enacted its lockout of players, we knew neither side would feel any sense of urgency for quite some time. The beauty (and the curse) of the Dec. 1 expiration date on the old CBA was the window of opportunity it provided for the two parties to continue to negotiate without any risk of losing games.
Now, though, we're more than a month into the work stoppage. And though there's still plenty of time to go before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report, it's fair to start wondering when these folks are going to start talking again in pursuit of a new deal.
According to all reports from those who monitor these things, there have been virtually no formal discussions between owners and players since the lockout began 33 days ago. Again, this isn't surprising, given the lack of an upcoming deadline. But you'd certainly like to start hearing reports of meetings being scheduled in the near future, right?
In all likelihood, we won't hear much until there really is a threat of spring training being delayed. When would that be? Well, if pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report around Feb. 15, and both sides would like to budget a little bit of time for a whole lot of unsigned free agents to figure out where they'll be playing this year, you would think a deal right around Feb. 1 would be imperative.
Again, though, that's far from a hard deadline. It's more of an optimal date to give everyone ample time to assemble their rosters before gathering in Florida and Arizona.
The harder deadline would come as Feb. 15 approaches. Teams should feel some pressure to open camps on time, because a delayed start to spring training means a delayed start to the exhibition season (and thus a loss of revenue).
Again, though, that's not absolutely necessary to still begin the regular season on time March 31. There is wiggle room in the spring training schedule, if the two sides are willing to reduce the number of workout days or exhibition games.
Teams typically have about 10 workout days in February, followed by four weeks of exhibition games before heading north (with three days set aside for final exhibitions in MLB ballparks and time for everyone to move into new apartments). If absolutely necessary, they could trim those six weeks down to four: one week for workouts, three weeks for exhibition games, leading right up to opening day.
That feels like the bare minimum players would agree to. Remember, MLB held a condensed, three-week "summer training" in July 2020, with only a handful of exhibition games at the end, and there were plenty of complaints about guys not being in game-shape yet and suffering injuries as a result. As much as they complain about the Grapefruit and Cactus league schedules, players really do need them to properly prepare for the regular season, especially pitchers.
So, given all that, it's reasonable to suggest March 1 is the latest spring training could start without delaying opening day. Which means a new CBA would need to be agreed upon no later than the final week of February, setting off a mad scramble of free agent signings.
How likely is that scenario? It certainly makes sense. But sadly, as we've seen time and again through the years in these kind of situations, never count on baseball doing something that makes sense.