In the more than two months since Major League Baseball owners voted unanimously to implement a lockout for the sport’s first work stoppage in nearly three decades, little progress has been made toward a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players’ union.
Already, the start of spring training has been delayed, as pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report earlier this week. On Friday afternoon, MLB officially announced the postponement of spring training games through March 4; fans with impacted spring training tickets will have the option to receive a credit or refund, per the Orioles.
Given that players will require some form of ramp-up period before playing in games, the negotiations are getting continuously closer to threatening the regular season, which is scheduled to begin March 31, though the league and players’ union are scheduled to meet every day next week beginning Monday.
Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos, who serves as Baltimore’s “control person” and thus is viewed by the league as the executive responsible for the club, said in a Zoom call with reporters Friday morning that he is hopeful the owners and players will reach an agreement to avoid impacting the regular season.
“I hope the season starts on time,” Angelos said. “I hope there’s a full schedule. That’s what the fans want. That’s what the players want. That’s what the teams want. But the collective bargaining process is just that. It’s a process. The Orioles — and I am not on the labor committee — we’re not involved directly in the negotiations, so I really like to leave that to the Commissioner’s Office and the owners that are on the labor relations committee and our friends at the Players Association, and I’m hoping for the best, just like all of you are, but I can’t make any predictions. I certainly think it would be good for Baltimore and good for baseball fandom to play.”
At any point, the owners could vote to lift the lockout and allow the season to be played under the terms of the previous CBA until a new one is agreed to. The primary negotiating points between the league and players are the thresholds and punishments for the competitive balance tax, arbitration eligibility and the salaries of players yet to reach arbitration, among other topics.
Under the lockout, teams are unable to adjust their 40-man rosters, meaning they can’t sign major league free agents or make trades involving major league players. Speaking Friday morning at an event announcing that Paul McCartney will perform at Camden Yards in June, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said, “We’ll get into talking about roster composition when the time is right,” referring to the lockout.
Many of the Orioles’ top prospects in a farm system ESPN on Friday ranked as the best in baseball are not on Baltimore’s 40-man roster, meaning they are able to partake in club activities and are expected to participate when the club’s minor league spring training begins Feb. 28. Some of them, including top overall prospect Adley Rutschman and No. 1 pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, figured to be invited to major league camp, but it’s unclear how that will be handled if spring training is further delayed past the start of the minor league baseball season, which begins at the Triple-A level April 5.
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“I’m in a position right now where talking about spring training in general is a little tough,” Elias said. “But I think that once the circumstances present themselves, we’re gonna do everything we can with the opportunity to train all these guys, but I think it’s gonna be a very exciting year up and down the organization.”
The Orioles have added a handful of minor league free agents during the lockout, with their first move of 2022 coming earlier this week with the signing of former Seattle Mariners infielder/outfielder Shed Long. At 26, Long will “provide a little bit more upside” than a typical minor league signing, Elias said.
Elias declined to speculate on how involved the Orioles will be on the major league free-agent market after the lockout. Earlier this offseason, Baltimore signed infielder Rougned Odor and reached an agreement with starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, a contract that is pending a physical and yet to be finalized.
“Honestly, as the process is ongoing at the league and players level, I have a lot of trust in the people working on it, and until that comes to resolution, it’s not a great time for me to get into aspects of adding to the roster or the free-agent market,” Elias said. “I can say that our entire organization has been working throughout the winter to be very prepared whenever we’re allowed to resume regular activity.”
Orioles, MSA continue to work toward new lease
The Orioles and their landlord, the Maryland Stadium Authority, are continuing to work toward a long-term lease, Angelos said, framing the potential agreement as a “public-private partnership” between the team, city and state for years to come.
With the current least set to expire after the 2023 season, Angelos said it would be “wonderful for everybody” to have a new agreement in place by the end of Governor Larry Hogan’s term in January 2023, though he couldn’t guarantee that timing. During a radio interview in March 2021, Angelos reiterated that the team’s future is in Baltimore despite uncertainty over the club’s future ownership.
“From the first minute I got together and sat down with [MSA chairman] Tom Kelso, neither one of us has ever said anything other than we can’t wait to expand and renew this public-private partnership,” Angelos said. “It’s been a great, great success.”