The Great Baseball Lockout of 2022 has many faces beyond Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, and their coterie of lawyers.
There are all the New Englanders who retired to Florida and don’t have their usual part-time jobs at JetBlue Park this year. It’ll be tougher for them to make ends meet.
Don’t forget the small-business owners and their employees in places like Bradenton, Lakeland, Sarasota, and Port Charlotte who count on spring training.
Or the game-day staffers at major league ballparks across the country, some who already have lost six days of work they can’t afford.
The fans, too, of course. The lockout has left behind a trail of canceled flights, useless tickets, and missed opportunities to enjoy games with family and friends.
Another of those faces belongs to Max Burt, a 25-year-old Triple A infielder in the Yankees organization who was a candidate to be invited to major league spring training if not for the lockout.
Burt starred at St. John’s Prep in Danvers and played four seasons at Northeastern, helping lead coach Mike Glavine’s program into the NCAA Tournament as a senior. It was the program’s first appearance in 15 years.
His reward was being selected in the 28th round of the 2018 draft and shipped off to Pulaski, Va., and the Appalachian League.
Against long odds, Burt climbed to Triple A. He is not considered one of the organization’s top prospects, but spring training would have been a chance to work with the major leaguers and get more exposure.
“It would have been great to play with and compete against those guys. But I can only focus on me and stacking up good days,” Burt said. “I don’t have control of it.”
Burt was invited to a minicamp the Yankees had for minor leaguers last week. It was a no-frills affair at the team complex across the street from Steinbrenner Field in the shadow of Raymond James Stadium.
Burt played multiple positions on the infield and the plan is to get him work in the outfield to increase his value. He’s one of those super-utility players every team has a need for.
Burt has improved off the field, too.
“My mental game is a lot stronger. I have a better idea of how to go about my business,” he said. “For me it’s staying consistent and buying into a routine that will hopefully help me reach my goals.
“I’ve always had belief in myself. I know where I want to end up — playing in the big leagues. I’m getting my chance.”
The work ethic is there. When the pandemic hit and the 2020 minor league season was canceled, Burt relocated to Houston and worked out at a baseball facility with fellow Yankees prospects Daniel Bies, Josh Breaux, and Mickey Gasper, a catcher from New Hampshire who played at Bryant.
“It was great. We had live at-bats a lot and I was able to compete,” Burt said. “I tried to take a step up in terms of my diet and taking care of myself. My parents both instilled that in me, don’t make excuses. So I got a lot of work done that year.”
It paid off. Burt opened last season with High A Tampa, was promoted to Double A in May and moved up to Triple A in August. He started 17 games at first base, 13 at second base, 13 at shortstop, and 39 at third base over the course of the season.
Burt then spent the offseason living in Manhattan with his girlfriend and working out with star Yankees shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe. He’s done all he can to put himself in position to get noticed.
Burt never imagined wearing Yankee pinstripes growing up in Massachusetts. Now he jokes with his Red Sox-fan buddies that they’ll have to wear a New York jersey to the game if he gets called up.
“Getting drafted by the Yankees was the best thing that’s happened to me,” Burt said. “It’s been a great opportunity. I can’t wait for this season to get started.”
Prospects in focus at spring training
There’s nothing positive about the lockout. But it will be an opportunity for minor league players to get more exposure.
Minor league camp opens at Fenway South on Sunday for pitchers and catchers, with position players starting on Thursday. Reporters will be allowed to attend.
Some players have been working out at the complex for a few weeks now but teams weren’t allowed to officially open camps any sooner than what was originally planned.
The prospects who are on the 40-man roster — Brayan Bello, Jeter Downs, Jay Groome, and Josh Winckowski among them — are locked out because they are considered big leaguers.
Alex Cora and the major league coaching staff will be on hand. It’s an odd situation for them considering Cora and eight of his coaches are members of the Players Association.
A few players we’re eager to watch:
Triston Casas: The 22-year-old first baseman finished last season in Triple A and could make his major league debut this season. Casas is a moose at 6 feet 5 inches, 245 pounds, but has a refined approach at the plate.
If you’re of the belief that a lefty power hitter should combat the shift by going the other way, Casas is your guy. To date, Casas has traded home runs for on-base percentage. But that switch will get flipped soon.
Marcelo Mayer and Nick Yorke: The middle infield of the future? Yorke, who turns 20 next month, had a knockout first season of pro ball in 2021, justifying being taken in the first round of the 2020 draft.
Mayer also was impressive and could move quickly through the organization after being the fourth overall pick last season.
Thaddeus Ward: The Sox were impressed by Ward a year ago, then he was lost to Tommy John surgery after two starts in Double A. He’s progressed to pitching off a half-mound but won’t be in games any time soon.
Blaze Jordan: The Sox signed him to a $1.75 million bonus in 2020. The corner infielder played 28 games last season and had a .959 OPS.
Is Jordan just a raw showcase slugger or somebody who can be molded into a productive hitter? This will be the year that starts to come into focus.
Gilberto Jimenez: The Sox major league coaches loved Jimenez’s raw athletic ability last season, giving him playing time in 18 spring training games. The 21-year-old is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, part of the reason the Sox have closed their camp to scouts from other teams.
If his baseball skills start to match his physical skills, Jimenez is a keeper.
Chris Murphy: The Sox have several pitching prospects on the 40-man roster idled by the lockout. Others are recovering from injury. Murphy, a 23-year-old lefty, could use this camp as a springboard.
He reached Double A last season and averaged 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings over seven appearances, albeit with a 5.45 ERA. A lefty with a mid-90s fastball and a good changeup, Murphy could potentially be an option for the big league roster late this season.
Alex Binelas and David Hamilton: These are the prospects the Sox got back from Milwaukee as their reward for taking Jackie Bradley Jr.’s onerous contract.
Binelas is a corner infielder who has impressive power and Hamilton is a speedy middle infielder. Hamilton stole 52 bases in 101 minor league games last season.
Matthew Lugo: A second-round pick in 2019, Lugo has played only 146 professional games because of the pandemic. He struggled at the plate before having a strong final two months with Low A Salem last season.
The Sox will want to see more of that from Lugo, who turns 21 in May.
Chih-Jung Liu: A hard-throwing righthander from Taiwan, Liu acclimated to pro ball and the United States last season, appearing in 13 games. The Sox sent him home with instructions to work on his strength and endurance.
Look for Liu to improve his velocity this season. He’s not yet heralded as a top prospect, but internally the Sox have high hopes for him and were impressed at how he handled the learning curve last season.
Jake Wallace: The former UConn closer and Methuen native was swiped from the Rockies for Kevin Pillar in 2020. Wallace struggled for much of the season in High A Greenville but dominated his final 12 appearances, allowing four runs on six hits over 17 innings and striking out 33.
If Wallace keeps that up, he’s going to move fast.
Niko Kavadas: He thumped 44 homers in 161 games at Notre Dame, many of them moonshots. A .937 OPS in his first season of pro ball was promising, even if it was only 15 games after being drafted in July in the 11th round.
Joe Davis: He’s a Paul Bunyanesque character who was drafted in 2019 after playing four years at the University of Houston and has since put up an .829 OPS with 24 homers (and 99 strikeouts) in 135 games.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Bill Lee, 75, successfully tried out for a barnstorming team sponsored by the Savannah Bananas, an independent league team in Georgia. Lee will be one of 45 players on the Banana Ball World Tour, which starts Friday and is scheduled for 13 games in four states.
▪ Tony Oliva took his “orientation visit” to the Hall of Fame Wednesday and used the occasion to make a plea for fellow Cuban Luis Tiant to join him in Cooperstown one day.
Oliva and Tiant played together with the 1970 Twins, who won 98 games, but were friends long before that. Oliva’s case is simple: Tiant was one of the best starters in the American League for a long period of time and has been overlooked.
Tiant will be considered again in December of 2023 when the Hall’s “Modern Era” committee next meets to consider candidates for induction in 2024. One committee selects players for the ballot before a 16-member group votes. Twelve votes are required for induction.
A diplomat is needed
Baseball will get back to business eventually. Once it does, Major League Baseball should examine how it goes about that business.
The protracted negotiations for a new CBA have demonstrated how deep the schism is between the league and its players. For baseball to move forward and deal with its many other issues collectively, that’s something the commissioner’s office should address.
It starts with the commissioner. The disdain for Rob Manfred among the players is so widespread that MLB should consider naming a deputy commissioner charged with repairing the relationship between the league and the union.
Theo Epstein surely has bigger plans, but perhaps a respected former player such as Raúl Ibañez could fill that role. He’s been working for MLB in on-field operations.
The Royals surely would not want to lose Dayton Moore as their president of baseball operations. But he’s also a person whose sensibilities would benefit the game beyond one franchise.
We all understand the commissioner of any professional league represents the owners and their interests far more than those of the players. A true steward of the game such as Bart Giamatti or Fay Vincent will never get that job again.
But that doesn’t mean baseball has to exist in a perpetual state of civil war with its players. Even Mike Trout, whose forays into social media usually involve the weather or his love of the Philadelphia Eagles, has criticized Manfred on Twitter.
At some point, even with all this anger, the goals of the players and owners do intersect and they should be able to communicate in ways beyond messengers walking back and forth across a parking lot at a minor league ballpark in Florida.
It’s likely too late for Manfred to regain any trust with the players. The open hostility is beyond repair.
But the league shouldn’t close the door on its greatest asset. Find somebody who can rebuild the bridges to the Players Association. They did exist at one time.
Meanwhile, how hefty must the fine be for any owner who gives an opinion about the lockout? Not one has offered any comment on the situation.
That Derek Jeter suddenly resigned as chief executive officer of the Miami Marlins on Monday morning was overshadowed by the CBA negotiations. But it was a significant piece of news. Jeter bolted because owner Bruce Sherman wasn’t following through with plans to add to the payroll this season. Jeter carried himself the same way as a player. Once you lost his faith, there was no getting it back. The same was true for any reporter who crossed him. At 47, there’s more than ample time for Jeter to turn in another direction career-wise. But it speaks volumes about the state of the game that such a prominent former player felt it better to walk away rather than preside over a team not fully committed to winning … North Carolina State freshman Tommy White, who hit nine home runs in his first nine games, is going to play for Falmouth in the Cape Cod League. Go heads up at Fuller Field. The Wolfpack also have freshman outfielder Chase Nixon, Trot’s son … The Foundation To Be Named Later has rescheduled its Hot Stove Cool Music event in Boston for April 30 at the Paradise. Goo Goo Dolls frontman Johnny Rzeznik is the headliner. Theo Epstein, Peter Gammons, Bronson Arroyo, and Bernie Williams will be on hand along with Boston music scene stalwarts Will Dailey, Kay Hanley, Ted Leo, Ed Valauskas, Barrence Whitfield, and others. See ftbnl.org for tickets and details … Happy birthday to James Lofton, who played eight games for the Red Sox in 2001. He is 48. The Sox acquired Lofton from an independent league team on July 1, 2001 and called him up in September. He was an unlucky 5 for 26, putting the ball in play 22 times without much to show for it. Lofton stayed in the organization as a minor leaguer in 2002 before going to the Mexican League and returning to independent ball in 2003 with the Nashua Pride. No, he is not related to the former NFL wide receiver with the same name.