MLB and the MLB Players Association reached agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in time to save the 162-game season, albeit with a revised schedule. The deal includes quite a few changes to the structure of the sport, not the least of which is an expanded postseason.
To clear up any lingering confusion over the season, the schedule and the specifics of the new CBA, here’s a handy FAQ to keep baseball fans up to date.
When does Spring Training begin?
The mandatory report date is this Sunday, when camps officially open. Players can report as early as Friday.
When do Spring Training games begin?
Tentatively March 18. The revised Spring Training schedule was not yet complete, as of this writing.
Thursday, April 7. That is one week later than the originally scheduled date (March 31), which was pushed back due to the labor negotiations. The games originally scheduled for March 31 through April 6 will be made up with three games at the end of the previously scheduled regular season and as part of nine-inning doubleheaders.
What is the playoff format?
The October field has been expanded from 10 teams (five in each league) to 12 teams (six in each league), with three division winners and three Wild Card teams in each league. The top two division winners in each league will receive byes to the Division Series. The other four teams in each league will play best-of-three series in what will be called the Wild Card round, with the higher seed hosting all three games.
There will be no re-seeding for Division Series. The No. 1 seed plays the winner of the 4-5 series, and the No. 2 seed plays the winner of 3-6.
There will no longer be play-in games (aka Game 163) to decide playoff spots. All playoff spots will be determined through tiebreaker formulas.
Are there any on-field rules changes?
The big one for 2022 is the National League’s adoption of the designated hitter. The universal DH was installed for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season before the NL reverted to its traditional rules for 2021. But going forward, pitchers will no longer have a spot in the batting order.
Beginning in 2023, a Joint Competition Committee comprised of four active players, six members appointed by MLB and one umpire will be tasked with making decisions on other changes, such as a pitch clock, limits on defensive shifts, larger bases and the automatic ball/ strike system. Any rule changes that committee adopts can be implemented with 45 days’ notice to the players.
What are the doubleheader and extra-innings rules?
Those reverted back to the pre-pandemic era. Doubleheaders will be nine innings, and there will not be an automatic runner at second base at the start of extra innings.
Can teams now sign free agents?
Yes, free agency opened a little after 7 pm ET on Thursday night when the CBA was ratified. And even after the spending spree that erupted in those weeks prior to the lockout, there are still nearly 200 free agents out there, with several hundred more Minor League free agents also available.
Speaking of which … who are the top remaining free agents?
Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Carlos Rodón, Michael Conforto, Anthony Rizzo and Nelson Cruz were all on MLB.com’s Top 25 free agents list at the beginning of the offseason and remain unsigned. Power-hitting, 27-year-old Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki is also available and is expected to conduct face-to-face meetings with several teams.
Those, too, can now proceed. Teams were forbidden from continuing or initiating trade talks during the length of the lockout but can now move forward on old and new ideas.
While blockbuster trades during Spring Training are unusual, this could be a unique exception. The winter trade market did not truly develop prior to the lockout, but A’s first baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman, Reds right-hander Sonny Gray, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel and Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier were just some of the names being bandied about before the break in the action. Those names — and many others — could come up again prior to Opening Day.
There’s a lot of work to be done there, too. At of the start of the lockout, there were 197 players who were eligible for arbitration and tendered contracts by their clubs but had not signed yet. So their contract situations have to be resolved in the near future. Ordinarily, arbitration figures are exchanged in January and hearings are held in February, but that was not possible during the lockout. This year, the arbitration exchange date will be March 22, with hearings taking place during the season.
Will there be a Rule 5 Draft?
No. The Rule 5 Draft, which is typically held during the Winter Meetings, has been canceled for this season.
What are other important elements of the CBA?
The five-year agreement includes increased minimum salaries (starting at $700,000 in 2022 and increasing to $780,000 by the end of the CBA), a new $50 million pre-arbitration bonus pool to reward the top young players in the game, a raise in competitive balance tax thresholds ($230 million in 2022 increasing to $244 million in 2026), a six-pick Draft lottery and limits on the number of times a player can be optioned in a season.
How will these changes affect the 2022 season?
Because of a new rule that says any player who finishes in the top two spots in Rookie of the Year voting will receive a full year of service time regardless of how many days they spend in the Majors, you could see more top prospects debut earlier in the season than in the past. The change in options rules is significant, as it will limit teams’ ability to continually keep their rosters (particularly their bullpens) fresh with guys taxiing back and forth from the Minors.
Will there be any changes to the Amateur Draft?
Yes, there will be a lottery for the top six picks, which will be the most aggressive Draft lottery in sports. (The NBA’s lottery is for the top-four picks, the NHL’s is for the first two and the NFL does not have a lottery.)
The lottery odds will be determined by the reverse order of winning percentage, with the teams with the three worst records all having an equal chance at the top pick (16.5%). All 18 non-postseason clubs will be eligible for the lottery, though clubs that receive revenue sharing are ineligible to receive lottery selections in three consecutive years, and non-payees cannot receive lottery selections in consecutive years.
What about the International Draft?
That issue has been tabled for now. MLB and the MLBPA have until July 25 to decide whether or not to implement the International Draft in the future. If it is agreed to, then free-agent Draft pick compensation will be eliminated. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, then the current international signing system and Draft pick compensation system (including the qualifying offer) will remain intact.