Lockout gets real: MLB’s spring showcase goes silent
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The street next to the San Francisco Giants spring training facility was missing its usual bustle on an unseasonably cool Wednesday morning.
Bartender Sean Ramirez was stacking plates and cleaning glasses before his lunch shift at Los Olivos Mexican Patio, contemplating Major League Baseball’s lockout.
“This is usually our time of year, man,” said Ramirez, a son of the restaurant’s owner who has worked behind the bar for 15 years. “This is the spot, the hangout for Giants fans. We’re usually packed with fans from Sacramento and San Francisco.”
The sounds of spring baseball — from the crack of wooden bats, to music blaring from stadium speakers, to shouted requests from autograph seekers — were muted or completely missing on what was supposed to be the day that pitchers and catchers began workouts in preparation for opening day on March 31.
Instead, it was Day 77 of a lockout that’s become the second-longest work stoppage in baseball history. Many minor leaguers are reporting to camp in Arizona and Florida on dates that vary by team, but the 40-man roster players won’t be on the field until MLB and the players’ association reach a compromise.
“I’m very sad because there’s nobody here, and we’re going to have a short spring training,” said 59-year-old Johnny Rivero, a Yankees fan who was hunting for a few autographs at the team’s minor league facility in Tampa, Florida.
“We’ll see what happens.”
For now, there’s not much happening at all.
Maybe the most depressing development for baseball fans is there haven’t been any real developments toward breaking the financial stalemate. Neither side made any public statement this week to acknowledge that spring training is failing to start on schedule for the first time since 1995.
Bargaining is to resume Thursday.
In Florida on Wednesday morning, the statue of late owner George Steinbrenner that sits outside of the Yankees spring facility faced a mostly empty parking lot and the closed ticket windows. The temperatures was in the 70s with a brisk east wind blowing in from right field, where the workout would have been taking place.
In Arizona, it was nearly silent outside of Salt River Fields, which is where the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies share facilities. The cool and damp weather added to the baseball malaise, as a parking lot security guard wandered around without much to do.
This is the third straight spring training that is far from normal following a 2020 cut short by the COVID pandemic and a 2021 with limited attendance due to health restrictions.
Ramirez said he has no idea what Los Olivos will look like this February and March if there’s no baseball. He’s just hoping the two sides reach an agreement soon.
“I am an optimist and I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular schedule,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said at a news conference last Thursday. “I see missing games as a disastrous outcome for this industry, and we’re committed to making an agreement in an effort to avoid that.”
The 2020 regular season was shortened from 162 games per team to 60 games, and regular-season games were played in empty ballparks. Last year, only Texas began the season at 100% capacity, with other U.S, teams reaching full capacity availability ranging from Atlanta on May 7 to Seattle on July 2. MLB attendance was 45.3 million, down from 68.5 million over 2019.
And now, labor strife.
Manfred said last week that about four weeks of training would be needed, with additional time for ratification and players to travel to camps.
When that time comes is anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, fans and workers like Ramirez are stuck in limbo.
“This is what we rely on to help us the rest of the year,” the bartender said. “We don’t know what to expect.”
This year’s free agent class was headlined by a star quintet of shortstops, but three of them signed big-money deals last week — Seager, Marcus Semien (Rangers) and Javier Báez (Tigers).
Carlos Correa and Trevor Story remain, with Andrelton Simmons also available for suitors who might miss out.
Correa, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, was considered the top player on the market entering the offseason and is certain to get the biggest deal after the lockout. The 27-year-old batted .279 with 26 homers, 92 RBIs and an .850 OPS for Houston in 2021, perhaps shaking some concerns about his durability by playing 148 games — his first time with at least 111 since 2016.
Two targets loom for Correa — Seager’s $325 million deal was the biggest signed this offseason, and Francisco Lindor’s $341 million, 10-year contract with the Mets is the record payday for a shortstop. Correa is looking for a deep-pocketed team ready to make a last-minute splash before spring training. Conveniently, the Yankees top the list of clubs that need a shortstop. General manager Brian Cashman has heaped praise on Correa, saying last month that negative fan reaction tied to the sign-stealing scandal was “not going to enter my calculus” and that Correa was “clearly not afraid.”
The 29-year-old Story has played six stellar seasons with the Colorado Rockies and hit .251 with 24 homers and 75 RBIs in 2021, surprisingly remaining in Denver all season instead of being traded to a contender. He could get something similar to Báez’s $140 million, six-year deal with Detroit.
Simmons won the last of his four Gold Gloves in 2018 and batted just .223 with three homers for Minnesota last year.
Freddie Freeman remains a free agent despite his apparently tight ties with the World Series champion Braves. The 2020 MVP is coming off another stellar season, hitting .300 with 31 homers, 83 RBIs and an .896 OPS.
Drafted by Atlanta in 2007, the 32-year-old seems like a prime candidate to follow friend and mentor Chipper Jones in being a lifelong Brave. If that doesn’t happen, it's not hard to picture nearly every big-market team trying to take a run at the five-time All-Star.
It’s expected — but not certain — that the National League will adopt the designated hitter as part of the new collective bargaining agreement. Several players stand to benefit by waiting to sign until that change is official.
Nick Castellanos should get the biggest payday of the group. The 29-year-old hit .309 with 34 homers and 100 RBIs for Cincinnati in 2021, but his outfield defense is just OK. Kyle Schwarber, who hit 32 homers for Washington and Boston last year, has a similar profile.
Nelson Cruz struggled after a midseason trade to Tampa Bay last year, but the 41-year-old still hit 32 homers and should get an everyday job. World Series MVP Jorge Soler also remains available.
A three-time Cy Young Award winner, Kershaw hasn't committed to a reunion with the Los Angeles Dodgers — where he's spent his entire career — and there's speculation he could try to stay closer to his Dallas home by joining the Rangers. The Dodgers did not extend a qualifying offer to the 33-year-old as a courtesy, meaning Texas would not have to sacrifice a draft pick to sign the ace left-hander.
Righties Nick Martinez and Jordan Lyles are in similar positions. Martinez, coming off a strong season in Japan, was close to an agreement with San Diego but couldn’t get it completed before the owners locked out the players Dec. 2. Lyles, meanwhile, had a deal with Baltimore but was unable to get his physical done in time.
Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki was posted by NPB’s Hiroshima Toya Carp on Nov. 22, and his 30-day window to sign with a major league team was paused by the shutdown. He’ll have 20 days to find a deal once rosters unfreeze, and agent Joel Wolfe told Japanese media last week that between eight and 15 teams have expressed interest. Another potential obstacle: spring training in Japan starts Feb. 1.
Trades were also put on hold during the freeze, but front offices have had months to cook up some headline-worthy swaps. There’s speculation that Oakland may look to unload star infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson as part of a cost-saving teardown, and the White Sox might move reliever Craig Kimbrell with Liam Hendricks locked into the closer’s role. Teams searching for starting pitching might inquire with Cincinnati on two-time All-Star Sonny Gray.
Bryant could fit onto nearly any roster because of his versatility — he played more games in the outfield than at third base for the first time last season, including 19 appearances in center. ... LHP Carlos Rodón didn’t get a qualifying offer from the White Sox despite finishing fifth in AL Cy Young voting in 2021.. ... Other names of note: OF Michael Conforto, 1B Anthony Rizzo, RHP Kenley Jansen, OF and NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario.
Ross D. Franklin
The main parking lot at the Los Angeles Angels Tempe Diablo Stadium remains closed as pitchers and catchers are not starting spring training workouts as scheduled as the Major League Baseball lockout enters its 77th day and will prevent pitchers and catchers from taking the field for the first time since October in Tempe, Ariz., Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)