MLB opening day: 30 things to know after baseball's action-packed offseason
It was an exceptionally weird and disjointed offseason for MLB. Over $750 million was shelled out to players before Dec. 2. Then, nearly 100 days of silence.
MLB owners locked out the players once the league’s old collective bargaining agreement expired. The two sides eventually agreed on a new deal — more on that later — but it came late in the offseason. The rest of free agency and spring training were compressed into just a few weeks, and the season’s start date was pushed to April 7.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying, if you pushed baseball to the wayside this winter, we can’t blame you. Despite the players that changed teams and the money that was spent, it wasn’t a particularly fun time to be a baseball fan.
But, hey, the game is back now. And if you’re reading this, you’re back too.
Consider this your cheat sheet for the start of the 2022 MLB season. If you shut baseball out of your life after the Atlanta Braves won the World Series last November, and are just getting back into the game now, here are 30 things you need to know on opening day.
There was a lockout!
The baseball offseason came to a screeching halt in December when the owners locked out the players after failing to reach a new labor agreement. The lockout lasted 99 days. During that period, teams could not communicate with players. It was up to the players to decide their offseason schedule and determine how to deal with injuries or discomfort. A new deal was reached, but a little late. The start of the 2022 MLB season was pushed back a few days and spring training was shortened. MLB teams will still play 162 games in 2022, but there will be more doubleheaders scheduled to make up for the early games that were wiped from the schedule as the lockout stretched on.
The Rangers spent half a billion ... yes, with a 'b'
Before the lockout hit, the Texas Rangers were the talk of the offseason. The team dropped $556 million on three players in the opening days of free agency. Corey Seager signed a 10-year, $325 million deal, Marcus Semien inked a seven-year, $175 million deal and pitcher Jon Gray joined the club on a four-year, $56 million contract. The team shelled out those deals despite winning just 60 games in 2021. The Rangers are still projected to be near the bottom of the league in wins, but the offseason splurge indicates they are committed to turning things around.
The universal DH is here
National League purists avert your eyes, the days of pitchers hitting has officially ended. The universal designated hitter is here to stay. Baseball fans got a taste of the policy in 2020, when the league temporarily installed the universal designated hitter. Things went back to normal in 2021, and pitchers responded by hitting .108/.147/.137 in 4,788 plate appearances. Designated hitters put up a .248/.321/.455 slash line in 2021, so offense could take a step forward this season, especially in the National League. The move also created some job opportunities for aging sluggers and players with questionable defensive skills.
There are 12 playoff teams this year
MLB owners really love money, and the postseason is where the best money is made. The owners made expanding the playoffs a priority during labor negotiations and mostly got their way. Twelve MLB teams will make the postseason from now on, up from 10 in previous seasons. The top two teams in each league will receive byes in the first round. The other division winner will play the No. 6 seed in a three-game series. The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds will square off in their own three-game series to see which team advances to take on the No. 1 overall side. Playoffs will not be reseeded, so if the No. 6 seed upsets the No. 3 seed in the first round, the No. 6 seed will still play the No. 2 seed. Got all that? No? OK, here’s the short version: There’s now a third wild-card team in each league.
Shohei Ohtani is looking for an encore, and can stay in games longer
If Shohei Ohtani stays healthy, it’s tough to project anyone else to win the American League MVP. Ohtani’s prowess at the plate and on the mound is unmatched. No one can do what he does. And now, he’s looking for an encore. How in the world does Ohtani live up to what he accomplished last season? He clubbed 46 home runs, stole 26 bases and then posted a 3.18 ERA over 130 1/3 innings. He’s the new face of baseball. MLB fans should get used to seeing that face more often in 2022. Thanks to a new rule change, Ohtani can remain in games as a designated hitter when he’s removed from the mound. That should give Ohtani even more plate appearances, and maybe a chance to reach 50 home runs on the season.
The Mets won the offseason
The New York Mets have a history of coming up short when it matters. The team is famous for sending out “we tried” messages after a prominent free agent signs with another team. But things are different under Steve Cohen. The Mets were one of the most aggressive teams on the free agent market, signing Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte and Max Scherzer. The team also traded for pitcher Chris Bassitt. Under Cohen, the Mets are expected to run the second-highest payroll in MLB in 2022. This season could mark a turning point for the Mets. A strong season could take them from a much-mocked franchise to one of the league’s premier destinations. Of course, Jacob deGrom immediately got hurt, signaling it could be another year of fans uttering “same old Mets” in August.
Braves trade for Matt Olson after World Series win
The Atlanta Braves made a bold move coming off their World Series win. The team traded for Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson. It's a strong move that comes at a huge cost. The Olson trade meant Freddie Freeman — the team's longtime franchise icon — was no longer in the plans. Freeman eventually joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Olson, an Atlanta native, quickly signed an eight-year, $168 extension with the Braves. It's a good long-term move that should keep the Braves competitive in 2022. Fans will probably grow to love Olson, but the sting of losing Freeman, especially after he delivered a World Series win, will take time to process.
The sticky stuff crackdown is back
MLB’s crackdown on sticky stuff worked in 2021 … but not for long. Pitcher spin rates dipped immediately after the new rules — which included umpires checking pitchers’ hats, gloves and belts after or during appearances — went into effect. But by the end of the season, spin rates were on their way back up, leading some to wonder whether pitchers found a way to cheat the umpire checks. The sticky stuff crackdown will be used again in 2022, but with an added twist. Umpires will also check pitchers' hands. Any pitcher who has evidence of foreign substances on their hands will be ejected and suspended. Pitchers who wipe their hands before being inspected could also face discipline.
Carlos Correa chooses Twins
Former Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, considered the best free agent on the market, shocked the baseball world in March by signing a three-year, $105 million deal with the Minnesota Twins. The deal has a unique structure, which allows Correa to opt out after the first or second year, meaning it could be one and done for the superstar if the Twins don’t show improvement after winning 73 games in 2021. The team also added Sonny Gray, Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela in two separate trades, so perhaps that will be enough to push them back into contention and keep Correa around another season.
Unvaccinated players can’t play in Toronto
The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2022 season with a significant advantage over the rest of the league. Due to Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination rules, unvaccinated visiting players will not be allowed to enter the country. Players who fall into that category will be placed on the restricted list. They won’t be paid and they won’t accrue service time for missing those games. The policy reportedly does not apply to Blue Jays players. A few prominent members of the New York Yankees are rumored to be unvaccinated, which could play a major role in the American League East race. There was initially concern those Yankees wouldn’t be able to play home games in New York, but Mayor Eric Adams lifted those restrictions in March.
The Dodgers’ lineup is loaded
The Dodgers responded to losing one of the best free agent hitters on the market by signing one of the best free agent hitters on the market. Corey Seager is out and Freddie Freeman is in, giving the Dodgers one of the most feared lineups in baseball … again. The Dodgers are projected to score 870 runs in 2022 by Baseball Prospectus, the most in MLB. That’s not a dominant figure historically, but consider the state of MLB. Pitching rules all these days. Only one other team is projected to score 800 runs in 2022, per Baseball Prospectus, the New York Yankees, who sit at 801. Oh, and the Dodgers have one of the lowest projected runs allowed totals. So yeah, they’ll be dominant again in 2022.
The Blue Jays are ready for their star turn
The Toronto Blue Jays showed promise in 2020 before missing the playoffs by just one game in 2021. Now, the team is ready for its star turn. The Jays made some big moves in the offseason, signing Kevin Gausman to a $110 million deal and trading for Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman. The team boasts one of the strongest offenses in the American League, and is expected to compete in a tough American League East. Slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. likes his teams chances, saying last year was just the trailer. This season, fans are “going to see the movie.” It’s up to Vlad, and Bo Bichette and George Springer to make sure that movie has a storybook ending.
Cleveland is the same, but also different
The biggest midseason trade news has already been resolved. Jose Ramirez reportedly agreed to a five-year, $124 million extension Wednesday to remain with the Guardians. Oh, yeah, they are officially the Guardians now after changing their name. The move keeps one of the best players in baseball in Cleveland and takes the biggest trade chip off the market. With Ramirez seemingly sticking around, the focus shifts to Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, Washington Nationals designated hitter Nelson Cruz and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Castillo, all of who could be on the block in July.
Seiya Suzuki makes the Cubs interesting
If the Cubs are going to compete in 2022, they need their offseason acquisitions to hit in a major way. At least one of them, Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki, is projected to be a superstar immediately. Suzuki, 27, is projected to hit .273/.383/.501 in a neutral park, per Baseball Prospectus. If Suzuki hits that projection, he would be a top-10 hitter in baseball. If Suzuki can come close to that, and new arrival Marcus Stroman can do his thing, the Cubs could be more interesting than expected.
The Athletics had a massive fire sale
“Moneyball” was a book about how the Athletics were able to find undervalued assets and compete with the financial behemoths in the game on a shoestring budget. The team decided to up the stakes for the sequel and it’s about to go over as well as “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” The Athletics engaged in a full-on fire sale over the offseason. Slugger Matt Olson and defensive stalwart Matt Chapman were shipped out. Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea were sent away too. Frankie Montas is the only big name left, and maybe not for long. Catcher Sean Murphy is also rumored to be on the block. Martin from accounting is projected to start at first base. The A’s like his patience, but that’s probably because he’s terrified to actually swing the bat when he steps to the plate.
Key players are coming back from injury
The 2022 MLB season will mark the much-awaited return of some key players. Ronald Acuña Jr. is slated to come back in late April after an ACL injury knocked him out of action last season. San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. is recovering from a wrist injury, but is expected to return in a few months. Justin Verlander will be back after missing the entire 2021 season, Mike Trout returns after playing in just 36 games and Chris Sale and Luis Severino dealt with some spring injuries, but are expected to take on more innings in 2022 once they get back.
Trevor Bauer is still on administrative leave
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer remains on administrative leave as a result of sexual assault allegations. The Los Angeles district attorney’s office declined to charge Bauer, citing a lack of evidence. He won’t face criminal charges, but is still subject to punishment from MLB. The league and players’ union agreed to push Bauer’s leave until April 16. At that point, the league could make a decision on Bauer’s status. If he is cleared to return, the Dodgers will have to decide whether they want him around.
Minor leaguers are fighting for change
Minor-league players could be in for some major changes soon. A class-action lawsuit could go to trial after former minor leaguers argued MLB violated wage and overtime laws. MLB has argued that minor-league players are seasonal workers, enabling teams to pay them only during the regular season. As seasonal workers, minor-league players are also exempt from state and federal wage laws. In March, a summary judgement ruled in favor of the players in some key aspects, meaning the issue could go to trial. A trial would determine the damages the league owes to players who participated in spring training in Arizona and Florida. It would also apply to players who took part in the California League.
Doubleheaders are back but so is the ghost runner
The days of the seven-inning doubleheader are dead. Nine-inning doubleheaders are back, and fans should prepare to see them often in 2022. As a result of the lockout, MLB scheduled more doubleheaders in 2022 to make up for lost games. Those contests will go a full nine innings, mercifully ending the debate over whether seven-inning no-hitters should count. There’s a catch to all this, though. In a last-minute move, the league and players brought back the ghost runner for extra innings. This applies to all games, not just doubleheaders. Once the 10th inning starts, a runner will be placed on second base at the start of each inning. The move is meant to prevent marathon games that stretch into the 17th inning and completely drain bullpens.
The Phillies don’t care about defense
The Philadelphia Phillies responded to the universal DH rule by trying to construct their entire team out of designated hitters. OK, that’s not entirely fair, but it’s clear the team valued home runs over defense on the free agent market. The Phillies signed Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, giving them two more players who can pop 30 home runs with ease. The team’s defense will likely take a hit, but that won’t matter when the Phillies are averaging eight runs a game.
Derek Jeter left the Marlins
The Marlins’ biggest loss of the offseason wasn’t a player. Team CEO Derek Jeter stepped down in February. Jeter did not reveal why he left the team. In a statement, he said the team’s “vision for the future … is different than the one I signed up to lead.” That, combined with the statement coming in the middle of the lockout, led to some questions about how the Marlins intend to operate moving forward. The Marlins were one of three teams hit with a grievance in 2018 for not spending enough money. The players refused to drop that grievance in labor negotiations, so it remains active.
MLB’s monopoly could be in danger
Major League Baseball is, essentially, a monopoly. It has no competition. Senator Bernie Sanders is looking to end that. Sanders introduced the “Save American Baseball Act,” which seeks to dissolve the league’s antitrust exemption. The bill does not have a co-sponsor yet, though Sanders believes the issue has bipartisan support. There’s still a long way to go before MLB is stripped of those protections, but the legislation bears watching. It’s not the first time Sanders has taken aim at MLB. He remains angry that the league cut roughly 40 minor-league teams in 2020. Sanders also criticized MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in a letter this offseason, urging Manfred to end the lockout.
The Yankees have some new faces
The New York Yankees desperately needed a shortstop this offseason. Instead of spending on Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, the team decided to trade for Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The team also picked up third baseman Josh Donaldson in the deal. Catcher Gary Sanchez was shipped out in the trade, making it the biggest move the team made the entire offseason. Anthony Rizzo was also re-signed on a two-year, $32 million deal. It wasn't a super eventful offseason for the Yankees, but the team is still projected to win 99 games in 2022, per Baseball Prospectus.
The Rockies did confusing things
Predicting the Colorado Rockies is similar to cutting into an avocado. You think you know what awaits you, only to find out you waited too long and now have a brown, mushy mess on your hands. Kris Bryant is a far better consolation prize than a brown, mushy mess, but he was still as shocking addition for the Rockies. The team won just 74 games last season and isn't expected to compete in 2022. Despite that, it signed Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million deal. The deal is even more confusing considering the Rockies let Trevor Story walk, and aren't far removed from dealing former franchise cornerstone Nolan Arenado. Good for Bryant, who should mash in a friendly atmosphere, but what, exactly, is the plan here?
Wander Franco looks to take MLB by storm
Tampa Bay Rays phenom Wander Franco lived up to expectations his first season with the team. Franco slashed .288/.347/.463 in 70 games. It was a strong debut for a player who wasn't legally allowed to consume alcohol in the United States. Franco turned 21 in March and is looking for much bigger things this season. Franco, the consensus top prospect in baseball heading into 2021, consistently hit above .300 at every minor-league stop. His bat control is incredible and his ability to spray doubles all over the park is nearly unmatched for a player of his age. With a few adjustments, Franco could contend for the American League MVP award as soon as this season. The Rays usually make the playoffs on the backs of nameless, faceless players cobbled together from the scrap heap. Franco should change that. If he can live up to expectations, he'll be a name all baseball fans know, and opposing fans fear.
The Reds sold off parts
It wasn't as extensive as the Athletics' fire sale, but the Cincinnati Reds engaged in their own sell-off during the offseason. Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez went to the Seattle Mariners. Sonny Gray was sent to the Minnesota Twins. The Reds aren't completely hopeless without those players (Baseball Prospectus thinks the team will win 80 games) but the moves send a bad signal to fans. If the Reds are hovering around .500 at the deadline, it seems likely more players will go. Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Mike Moustakas could all prove solid acquisitions. Joey Votto — who just joined social media — might also draw attention, especially if he continues to age like a fine wine.
Michael Conforto still doesn’t have a job
Former New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto will open the 2022 season without a team. Conforto is coming off a tough season, in which he hit just .232/.344/.384, but he's a far better player than those numbers. The market for Conforto has remained quiet. He hasn't been mentioned in many rumors lately. It's unclear whether he's unsigned because he wants a big deal, or if Conforto is willing to take a one-year contract to try and rebuild his value. Conforto, 29, can still be an impact player and won't remain unsigned all season. At this point, however, he might have to wait until a significant injury to choose his next team.
David Ortiz got into the Hall of Fame ... Barry Bonds did not
David Ortiz will make a Hall of Fame speech in 2022. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling will not. Ortiz was the only player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He received 77.9 percent of the vote. Bonds, Clemens and Schilling all failed to get elected in their final years of eligibility. They can still get into the Hall of Fame through one of the museum's various committees, but that could prove tough for Bonds and Clemens, who have connections to using performance enhancers during their careers.
New managers in new places
Four teams will enter 2022 with different managers. The San Diego Padres traded for Oakland Athletics' skipper Bob Melvin. He'll be tasked with getting the Padres back on track after a second-half collapse last year. Buck Showalter is back in New York, but with the Mets this time. He'll try to live up to the team's lofty expectations. The Athletics hired former outfielder Mark Kotsay to replace Melvin. The St. Louis Cardinals are going with Oliver Marmol after surprisingly firing Mike Shildt. Kotsay and Marmol spent time as bench coaches with their teams and should be familiar with their personnel.
Albert Pujols is back in St. Louis
After a decade away, Albert Pujols makes his triumphant return to the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols, 42, signed a one-year deal with the team in March. He said this will be his final season in MLB. With the move, Pujols will return to the place where he started his surefire, first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Pujols slashed an obscene .328/.420/.617 his first 11 seasons in St. Louis. After a few middling seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Pujols showed signs of life in a brief stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. If he can recapture that second-half magic, Pujols could make it a special final season in the place he became a star. Pujols sits just 21 home runs away from 700. He hit 17 in limited time last season, so the milestone is still in reach as long as Pujols has something left in the tank.