You can erase that circle on your calendar around March 31.
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball officially announced the start of its 2022 season will be delayed, the biggest blow yet delivered by the league’s lockout of its players amid negotiations of a new collective bargaining agreement.
After the players union rejected the league’s “best and final offer” Tuesday on the ninth straight day of negotiations, commissioner Rob Manfred said the first two series of the regular season have been canceled. The soonest the Orioles’ season could start is April 8.
It has been more than two weeks since pitchers and catchers were supposed to report for spring training, and the first exhibition games were scheduled for this past weekend.
Here’s what you need to know about the MLB lockout, why the season is delayed and what it means for the Orioles.
Why is the season delayed?
On Dec. 2, shortly after the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement, all 30 MLB owners unanimously voted to implement a lockout, barring players represented by the Major League Baseball Players Association from participating in club activities and preventing teams from performing transactions such as trades or free-agent signings at the major league level.
At the time, Manfred said the league hoped “the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.” But it then took nearly a month and a half for the league to make a proposal, the first in the infrequent rounds of negotiations that have followed.
The sides did not truly begin to meet regularly until last week in Jupiter, Florida, setting a Monday deadline to complete a new deal and begin the regular season on time. After the sides met late into the night Monday, the league extended its deadline to 5 p.m. Tuesday. That cutoff passed without a new deal, so Opening Day won’t come until at least April.
What happens to fans who have already bought tickets to Camden Yards? How will this affect the Orioles’ schedule?
With the first two series being canceled, the Orioles will lose a home series against the Toronto Blue Jays and a road series against the Boston Red Sox. The earliest they would open their season is April 8 at the Tampa Bay Rays with their home opener being April 11 against the Milwaukee Brewers.
MLB choosing to cancel the regular season’s first two series means tickets for the Orioles’ April 2, April 3 and April 11 games are no longer valid, per the club; affected fans will automatically receive credit in their My Orioles Ticket account and can request a refund. Tickets for March 31, which was scheduled to be Opening Day, will be valid for the team’s eventual home opener, whether that be April 11 or another date pending further delays. For tickets to canceled spring training games, affected fans have the option to receive credit or a refund.
As for the schedule, the league has said that in addition to delaying the start of the season, it also doesn’t intend to reschedule lost games, meaning teams would play fewer than 162 games for the second time in three years. However, the length of the season figures to be a part of negotiations going forward, even if the season is starting later than expected.
With teams having scheduled events at their venues throughout the year — Paul McCartney’s June 12 concert at Oriole Park, for example — the presumption is the schedule will pick up wherever the original 162-game version fell once an agreement is in place and players have had enough “spring training” time to play official games.
What does this mean for the Orioles as a team?
Depending on how long this all lasts, the 2022 season won’t be as damning as 2020′s 60-game, no-fans season. But this won’t be great for the Orioles’ pockets.
The club’s rent with the Maryland Stadium Authority is based on various revenue streams at Camden Yards, such as ticket and concession sales. In the most recently completed fiscal year, the MSA received $1.6 million in rent from the Orioles, compared with the average of $6.8 million during the team’s 30-year lease at Oriole Park.
The Orioles have ranked bottom five in MLB in attendance each of the past three full seasons, so they won’t necessarily be hurt as much by the lost gate and concessions revenue as other teams. Likewise, they figure to save on players’ salaries for the lost games, though they have one of the league’s lowest payrolls.
With the Orioles spending 2022 commemorating the 30-year anniversary of Camden Yards, some of those celebrations could be put on hold, including fan giveaways. Eleven of Baltimore’s 80 home games are scheduled before the end of April.
What does this mean for the Orioles players?
The league does not intend to pay players for lost games, and they also certainly won’t be paid as long as the lockout is ongoing. The union has created, in effect, a rainy day fund knowing these CBA negotiations could be contentious. Players will reportedly receive monthly stipends, though they will be much lower than their typical pay. But it’s unclear how long that will last — and how much pressure players will feel to make a deal if the delay reaches a point where it runs out.
Players are also barred from participating in club activities, and club officials are not allowed to engage with them.
Can the season start without a new CBA?
It absolutely could, but it’s doubtful that happens. As swiftly as the league’s owners implemented the lockout, they can lift it, allowing the season to commence under the previous CBA as negotiations for the new one continue.
However, the lockout is pressuring tactic for the league, as games being played would remove one of their most powerful weapons: players’ loss of salary with lost games. Of course, if the lockout was lifted, it’s possible the players could respond by going on strike, and we would be right where we are now.
What issues are the league and players negotiating?
There are actually a handful of issues the sides are broadly in agreement on, including increasing the competitive balance tax, implementing a draft lottery and introducing methods to increase pay for major league players not yet eligible for arbitration. But on these topics and others, they remain incredibly far apart in terms of how these changes will actually go into effect. Here’s a quick explanation of the primary talking points, based on reporting from The Athletic, ESPN and others.
Competitive balance tax: The CBT is effectively MLB’s version of a salary cap. Teams are allowed to have a payroll — measured by the sum of the average annual value of each player’s contract — exceeding the thresholds but are taxed on the overages. MLB spent much of the lockout proposing slight increases to the tiers with much stronger tax penalties before relenting in recent days, while the union, based on increasing revenues in the sport, wants significantly higher thresholds.
Arbitration eligibility and pre-arbitration salary structure: This is lumping several negotiating points into one. In the previous CBA, players were eligible for arbitration — a structure designed for them to receive significant raises — if they were between three and six years of major league service time. Additionally, players in the top 22% of the two-to-three-year range were eligible.
Throughout negotiations, players have tried to increase eligibility among two-plus players, but the league has refused to budge off 22%. The sides, though, have agreed on introducing a bonus pool that awards the top performers among players not yet eligible for arbitration, but they’ve also been about $100 million apart on how large that pool should be for much of the negotiations, moving closer of late. Likewise, both sides are open to increasing the league’s minimum salary, with players again suggesting a larger increase than the owners.
Expanded playoffs and draft lottery: Again, these are intertwined. The league wants to increase the number of playoff teams from 10 to 14, with the players offering 12. Both sides have also introduced a proposal, designed to prevent tanking, that will have all non-playoff teams entered in a lottery to determine the order of the first handful of draft picks. The sides have yet to agree on the size of the lottery, with the latest reports having the league including the first five picks and the players the first seven. Both proposals included stipulations about how many consecutive years teams can be part of the lottery.
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Service time manipulation: There are typically 184 days in a non-delayed season. If a player is in the majors for 172 of them, he’s credited with a full year of service time, which helps him reach arbitration and free agency sooner. Teams have at times ensured top prospects remain in the minors for at least 13 days to effectively give themselves a seventh season of control over a player. To prevent this, the league has suggested rewarding draft picks or international signing bonus slots to teams whose top prospects earn a full year of service and meet other requirements. The players’ proposal is to award players a year of service, regardless of how much time they actually spend in the majors, if they meet certain performance-based criteria. The sides have reportedly agreed that any top-two finisher in Rookie of the Year voting will be recognized with a full year of service.
What about the minor leagues?
Because these negotiations involve only players on teams’ 40-man rosters, minor league baseball will go on regardless of what’s happening on the major league side.
The Orioles’ minor league spring training officially began Monday with pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida, and all position players are expected to report by next week. Triple-A Norfolk’s season will begin April 5, with the remaining full-season affiliates starting three days later.
One interesting wrinkle: Prospects and other players on the 40-man roster won’t be able to play in the minor leagues. In the Orioles’ case, that’s a group that includes pitchers DL Hall and Kyle Bradish, their Nos. 3 and 9 prospects according to Baseball America, and outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who ranked as their top prospect after being the centerpiece of 2018′s Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
How could this affect the Orioles’ plans for promoting top prospects Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez?
By not being on the 40-man roster, Rutschman and Rodriguez — generally regarded as the best position player and pitching prospects in baseball — will initially be part of minor league camp rather than non-roster invitees to the major league side. Given there are no catchers on Baltimore’s 40-man roster, Rutschman figures to be in consideration to be the Orioles’ Opening Day backstop, though the service time implications might prevent that regardless.
This delay could potentially limit how long he’s down in the minors, though. Presumably, a shortened season means prorated service time, as was the case in 2020. That means the Orioles would need to hold Rutschman in the minors for less time to gain an extra year of service, assuming Rutschman doesn’t eventually meet the requirements to be credited with a full first year. Likewise, if the Triple-A season ends up starting much before the major league campaign, any excuse about Rutschman needing to start the season in the minors because he needs more time at Norfolk might be eradicated as long as he was performing well there.
Rodriguez is facing different circumstances, given that he didn’t pitch above Double-A last year and the Orioles were generally cautious in his usage. He figured to be a midseason call-up regardless, but depending on how long this delay lasts, Rodriguez just might make the Orioles’ Opening Day rotation.