Rob Manfred said Thursday it would be “a disastrous outcome” for baseball to miss any games in the regular season because of labor issues. For now, let’s presume the commissioner truly believes that and will broker a way for the regular season to start on March 31 as scheduled.
The season could start on time if spring training opened on or around Feb. 21, with exhibition games following a week later. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it’s better than the alternative.
It also would be exciting. Once a date is set and the lockout is lifted, a frenzy will follow. It’ll be a deluxe version of fantasy baseball as dozens of players make deals and trades come in bunches.
For nearly 11 weeks now, baseball has been on hold. Outside of minor league contracts, teams have not been allowed to add players to their organization or conduct the usual business of the offseason.
The Red Sox, as an example, still have five unsigned players who are eligible for arbitration: Christian Arroyo, Rafael Devers, Nick Pivetta, Josh Taylor, and Alex Verdugo. Getting them under contract will be an immediate priority.
Devers is a candidate for a long-term extension, something that is often worked out during spring training.
The Rule 5 Draft has yet to be held, so there are prospects who could soon be on other teams with a chance to make the major league roster.
Several teams, in particular the Athletics and Mets, are expected to be active in the trade market. You could have players held out of exhibition games for a few days so they remain healthy enough to trade, or others traded while in games or on a practice field.
“Everybody is getting anxious,” one agent said. “Players want to know what city they’ll be in. Managers will want to know who’s on their team. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything like it.”
Ideally, there would be a week to make deals before camps open. But given the acrimony between the owners and players, that seems unlikely.
Here’s what to anticipate once the starting gun sounds:
Free agents: There’s practically an All-Star team available with Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Carlos Correa, Michael Conforto, Freddie Freeman, Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw, Anthony Rizzo, and Trevor Story still on the market.
Japanese star outfielder Seiya Suzuki remains committed to going through the posting process and playing in the majors but remains on hold. He has been linked to the Red Sox.
Freeman and Kershaw may be the two most interesting cases. Both are legacy players with their teams but could be on the move.
That the Braves didn’t extend Freeman during the season opens the door to the Southern California native going to the Dodgers. The Yankees are another option.
Kershaw, who turns 34 next month, can retire knowing he’s a sure Hall of Famer. He could return to the Dodgers and make a run at another championship. Or the Dallas native could sign with the much-improved Rangers and finish his career while living at home.
Trade market: Oakland is expected to slash payroll, which makes Chris Bassitt, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Matt Olson, and Lou Trivino good candidates to go.
For teams with championship aspirations, the Athletics have players who can fill almost every need. A Philadelphia-Oakland deal seems inevitable.
The White Sox need to deal Craig Kimbrel and the Reds will seek to move Sonny Gray. Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured player on Tampa Bay’s roster, is another candidate to get dealt.
The quiet Yankees: New York didn’t make any impact moves ahead of the lockout, preferring to wait and see what the financial landscape would be when it ended.
The Yankees have made the playoffs the last five seasons but haven’t been to the World Series since 2009. Brian Cashman knows that’s not a streak he can ride for much longer. Hal Steinbrenner has to be feeling some heat, too.
Whether it’s signing Correa or making a big trade, the Yankees are going to do something. Their business plan has always been to act.
Filling out rosters: The Red Sox have 47 players on their spring training roster, 39 from the 40-man roster and eight non-roster invitees. They opened spring training with 77 last season and had 67 in 2020.
Teams may not carry as many fringe players for a shorter schedule. But you can expect hundreds of minor league free agents to sign once the green light goes on.
Golden oldies: Nelson Cruz (41) and Zack Greinke (38) are free agents and intend to play. Cruz had an .832 OPS over 140 games last season and is still a viable middle-of-the-order hitter. He said last summer he’s playing for a World Series championship after 21 years in pro ball.
Cruz will not lack for opportunities with owners having agreed to a universal DH. The rule change is not yet official but is expected to be before the season.
Greinke was 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA in his first 26 starts before a shaky end to the season that included a stint on the injured list with a stiff neck.
Champions are available: Outfielders Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler helped boost the Braves from a losing record to a World Series title after being acquired in July. All three are free agents and unlikely to return to Atlanta with Ronald Acuña Jr. on his way back from a knee injury and Marcell Ozuna eligible to play after serving a 20-game suspension last season for a domestic abuse incident.
Soler was MVP of the World Series and seems sure to find a good contract as a DH. Rosario improved his marketability by posting a .903 OPS in 33 games for the Braves then going 23 of 60 with seven extra-base hits in 16 postseason games.
Winter woes: It’s cliché for spring training stories to include a line about a player “being in the best shape of his life.” But it’s usually true. Teams stopped taking chances about five years ago and now send athletic trainers, strength coaches or other team personnel to check in with players during the winter.
Hitting and pitching coaches regularly fan out across the country and Latin America to work with players. Most pitchers get to camp having already thrown off a mound and hitters are well into building up their swings.
But teams have not been allowed to communicate with players during the lockout. Don’t be surprised if there are more injuries than usual once camps open and some players show up behind schedule.
Mistakes will be made: GMs, managers, and coaches usually have six weeks to pick their Opening Day roster. If that’s down to four, there are sure to be decisions teams will regret. There will be players cast aside in March who turn out to make a difference for another team.
“It’s going to be a spring where you’ll have to force yourself to get out of the office and watch the games,” one executive said.
TAKING A CHANCE
Red Sox seeking power with Ramos
The Red Sox signed 27-year-old first baseman Roberto Ramos to a minor league contract that included an invitation to spring training. He’s an interesting addition.
A lefthanded hitter originally from Mexico, Ramos went to high school and junior college in California and was drafted by Colorado in 2014.
He hit .292 with 98 home runs and an .897 OPS in six seasons for the Rockies but never got a chance in the majors and signed with the LG Twins in South Korea before the 2020 season.
Ramos was a force his first season, hitting .38 homers over 117 games. But a back injury ruined his second year and Ramos played only 51 games and had a .739 OPS. Now he’ll try to make his major league debut with the Sox.
Daniel Kim, an authority on Korean baseball, said Ramos has legitimate power. The Twins play at Jamsil Stadium in Seoul, which is 410 feet to center and 394 to the gaps, and Ramos didn’t have trouble putting the ball in the seats.
“I think he has a shot to become a good piece off the bench and provide depth,” Kim said. “He can surprise and sneak up on you.”
The Sox wouldn’t seem to need a lefthanded-hitting first baseman with Triston Casas on the way. But Chaim Bloom is a believer in the idea that players should conquer Triple A before being called up, so Ramos could be a platoon partner for Bobby Dalbec barring the return of Kyle Schwarber.
Other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ David Ortiz’s election to the Hall of Fame sparked this thought: Who was the last Red Sox standout to leave the team on a positive note?
Ortiz was an All-Star in his final season, retired, and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years later. The last Sox player to do that was Carl Yastrzemski in 1983. The only other was Ted Williams in 1960.
Unlike many of his former teammates, Ortiz left the Sox on his own terms.
Dustin Pedroia retired because of a terrible knee injury, having played only nine games in his final three seasons with the team.
Mookie Betts and Jon Lester were essentially traded because of contract disputes. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonathan Papelbon left as free agents, the Sox wisely not meeting their salary demands.
Josh Beckett was a salary dump. A disgruntled Kevin Youkilis was traded to the White Sox midseason in 2012. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield retired during spring training that season, both not quite convinced they were done.
Manny Ramirez left under a cloud of controversy. Curt Schilling had an acrimonious departure.
Johnny Damon and Pedro Martinez left as free agents after failed negotiations to stay in Boston. Nomar Garciaparra’s departure in 2004 was seen as a necessity to fix the team.
Ortiz broke the code. Maybe he left the instructions for Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers.
▪ The owners have agreed to a universal designated hitter for this season, according to commissioner Rob Manfred. If this is really it, let the record show that the last Red Sox pitcher to make a plate appearance was Chris Sale on Oct. 3 and he struck out on three pitches against the Nationals.
Sox hurlers were 2 for 25 and struck out 14 times last season. Good riddance to pitchers hitting.
Williams remembered for his friendships
Gerald “Ice” Williams, who died of cancer at the age of 55 on Tuesday, never made an All-Star team or won the World Series. But he gained respect throughout the game during his 14 seasons.
“He got me through my first year in New York,” said Mike Cameron, who played with Williams as a member of the Mets from 2004-05. “He was always so positive. I struggled the first half of that season, but he stayed with me and never let me get frustrated.”
Derek Jeter, whose inner circle is tighter than a clenched fist, got to know Williams in the early 1990s when both were with the Yankees. They became close.
“One of my best friends in the entire world,” Jeter wrote on Twitter.
Gerald Williams and Bernie Williams weren’t related and for a time were competing for playing time in the Yankees outfield. But they became good friends, too.
“He was a special guy,” Cameron said. “He would take care of you as a teammate and give you good advice where to go after a game or where not to go.
“It’s hard to go out and just perform without a support system and he was one of those guys who provided it. He helped make it easy for you. You really appreciate somebody who does that.”
Gerald Williams played for six teams over his career. In his late 30s, he was a useful veteran off the bench who could play all three outfield spots.
Teams don’t often want players like that now. They’d rather use the last few roster spots on younger, cheaper players who come and go from Triple A.
“Especially in places like New York and Boston, you need veteran guys,” Cameron said. “He made a difference for me, and I know the same is true for a lot of other players.”
The Trevor Bauer saga isn’t over yet and may not be for a while. Although he was not charged with any crimes in relation to assault accusations made by a woman last May, Major League Baseball’s standard for punishment under its domestic violence policy does not require criminal charges. Bauer missed the final three months of last season while on paid administrative leave. Regardless of MLB’s decision, the Dodgers will have to decide whether they want Bauer to represent their team given what he said was “consensual” rough sex. Bauer could be released with the Dodgers owing him $64 million. If that happens, would any team be willing to add Bauer given the controversies that have marked his career? Imagine trying to explain his addition to the fan base … Here’s how silly the lockout is: Dante Bichette resigned as a special adviser and coach with the Blue Jays so he could continue working with his son Bo Bichette, Toronto’s shortstop. Team employees are prohibited from communicating with any player on the 40-man roster. Even fathers and sons ... Baseball America projects Northeastern, UConn, Bryant, Fairfield, and Yale as NCAA Tournament teams this season. While on the topic of college baseball, we would be remiss not to wish Bob DeFelice of Bentley good luck in what will be his 54th and final season. He’s the only coach in school history. Assistant Mike Hill will take over next season … If you get a chance, check out Cafe Martin West Street on 7 West Street in Newton. The restaurant and pub was recently opened by Adrienne Martin, the widow of NESN videographer and longtime Boston Little League coach John Martin. When Martin was diagnosed with ALS, his home became known as “Cafe Martin” because of all the friends who dropped by to give John, Adrienne, and their two daughters support. After John died in 2018, Adrienne vowed to open an actual Cafe Martin. It’s open daily from 4-10 p.m. … Happy birthday to Nate Eovaldi, who is 32. The righthander is 15-11 with a 3.75 ERA the last two seasons and averaged 5⅔ innings per start, which these days makes him a workhorse. Brian Rose is 46. The former Dartmouth High star was a third-round pick of the Red Sox in 1994 and appeared in 46 games from 1997-2000 before being traded to the Rockies … It’s Feb. 14 on Monday. All the best to Ellis Valentine, Tyler Flowers, Pete Rose, Kyle Hart, Candy Maldonado, and Vance Lovelace.