Nightengale's notebook: 10 questions and predictions heading into 2022 MLB season

·14 min read

There will be a day that normalcy will return to the game of baseball.

There will be a 162-game schedule without a single threat of COVID-19 or labor dispute interrupting or delaying the season.

MLB and the players union may never agree on what constitutes fair compensation, but they will at least respect one another and show dignity when they gather together.

Who knows, maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles will stop tanking and one day return to the World Series, giving us a rematch of 1979.

Hey, we can dream, can’t we?

Well, while we still are optimistic,, here are 10 questions and fearless predictions for 2022 — from rule changes to will win the World Series.

1. When will the lockout end?

The lockout will end no later than Feb. 15, if not earlier and no spring training games will be cancelled.

MLB currently is working on a new set of proposals that it plans to present to the MLBPA within the next two weeks.

The two sides realize it would be catastrophic to the $11 billion industry for a work stoppage, making the 1994-95 strike look like nothing more aggravating than a rain delay. The two sides realize there is a genuine path to a five-year deal once they agree to sit down and actually negotiate.

2. What major changes will be made in the new deal?

– There will be a universal DH with pitchers no longer needing to pick up a bat again.

– The playoffs will be expanded from 10 teams to at least 12 teams, but likely 14 teams.

– The minimum salary will rise from $570,500 to at least $700,000.

– The luxury tax, currently at $210 million, will start at $230 million with incremental raises each year.

– Players still will need six years of service time to reach free agency or turn 29½, whichever comes first.

– Players will be eligible for salary arbitration earlier than three years or Super 2 status if they make the All-Star team, reach a certain WAR score, or attain other incentives.

– Teams cannot receive a top 5 draft pick three consecutive years no matter how awful the team performs.

– There will be advertising logos on uniforms, perhaps even by your favorite betting sites.

– No more seven-inning doubleheaders with ghost runners no longer coming into games before the 12th inning.

– The maximum number of pitchers on a staff will be limited to 13 in 2022 and 12 for the duration of the CBA.

– A pitch clock will be incorporated in 2023.

3. Who’s under the most pressure to receive a big contract?

Take a bow, Carlos Correa.

Correa, the best player on the free-agent market, knows he deserves a more lucrative contract than Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million deal and certainly more than Corey Seager’s $325 million contract.

Yet, what if no one will give it to him?

Carlos Correa could command close to double the $160 million Houston has offered.
Carlos Correa could command close to double the $160 million Houston has offered.

What if the Dodgers believe that Trea Turner will be their shortstop, not only in 2022, but in the future?

What if the New York Yankees truly believe that prized shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza are the real deal and aren’t interested in anything more than a fill-in for a few years?

What if the Houston Astros don’t move off their five-year, $160 million offer to Correa, insisting they won’t pay more than $200 million?

Where does Correa go, and will he have to take a short-term deal and hit the market again?

4. What free-agent contract signed this winter will be most scrutinized?

The Texas Rangers’ 10-year, $325 million for Seager is the biggest gamble of all the deals signed this winter. Seager has battled injuries for years and has missed 231 games in his last three full seasons. Now, with previous back injuries, he will be playing home games on artificial turf.

The Dodgers certainly have more money than the Rangers and could have kept him if they believed he’d still be productive in 2032.

5. What will happen to Trevor Bauer?

Certainly, he has thrown his last pitch for the Dodgers.

He also won’t throw a single pitch in a major-league game for anyone in 2022.

MLB still is awaiting word from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office investigating sexual assault allegations against him. Once the findings are revealed, MLB will call Bauer in for questioning, present its case and suspend him for the entire 2022 season.

He will not be paid his $45 million, but the Dodgers will remain on the hook for $17 million in 2023 when they release him.

The big question is whether any team will give him another chance?

6. Will anyone be elected to the Hall of Fame, or will this be the second consecutive shutout?

David Ortiz is going to be close. Very, very close.

No one else has a chance.

David Ortiz was a three-time World Series champion, 10-time All-Star and one of the biggest clutch hitters in baseball.
David Ortiz was a three-time World Series champion, 10-time All-Star and one of the biggest clutch hitters in baseball.

The biggest trend in the Hall of Fame balloting is the record dropoff for shortstop Omar Vizquel.

In one year, he went from being a likely candidate to be inducted into Cooperstown in the next few years, receiving 52.6% of the vote in 2020, to perhaps not even receiving the necessary 5% to stay on the ballot.

I believed the 11-time Gold Glove winner who had 2,877 hits – fifth-most by any shortstop in history – was a Hall of Famer.

Everything changed with news of his domestic violence and sexual harassment charges.

He’s off my ballot, and just about everyone else’s too.

Vizquel is on pace to lose 40% of his votes in a single year, according to the balloting compiled by Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs).

7. Considering this is the last year on the ballot for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling, what will be the next big Hall of Fame controversy?

We only have to wait until next year.

It will be Carlos Beltran’s first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, and although he’s hardly a shoo-in, he has the numbers that would normally give him strong consideration for a home in Cooperstown.

He hit 435 home runs with 1,587 RBI, 2,725 hits and stole 312 bases. He has the fourth most homers and RBI by anyone who played at least 50% of their games in center field.

He was a monster in the postseason with a slash line of .307/.412/.609. His 1.021 OPS is the fifth highest in postseason history behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols and George Brett.

And he was an absolute rock star in the clubhouse where he was a team leader on each of his teams.

Yet, he also was considered one of the ring leaders in the infamous Houston Astros’ cheating scandal in 2017. Even though he was just a player, he was one of the masterminds of the sign-stealing scandal.

It cost him his job as the Mets’ manager, getting fired without managing a single game.

It cost him a chance to be the Mets’ bench coach this year with new manager Buck Showalter.

Now, we’ll see if it costs him a chance at Cooperstown.

8. Is this the final season for three likely future Hall of Fame managers?

Dusty Baker of the Astros, Terry Francona of the Cleveland Guardians and Joe Maddon of the Los Angeles Angels are all on the final year of their contracts and could be headed into the sunset with eventual plaques in Cooperstown.

Baker, who’s just 13 victories shy of 2,000, signed a one-year contract in November not knowing whether he wants to keep managing or perhaps instead move to the front office as a special assistant. Baker, 72, still would love to grab that elusive World Series title, but by leading the Astros to the World Series last year, he’s a virtual lock for Cooperstown.

Astros manager Dusty Baker with his unique wristbands.
Astros manager Dusty Baker with his unique wristbands.

Francona, whose two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox and nearly a third with Cleveland, has an automatic ticket to the Hall of Fame. Francona, 62, is not even among the five oldest managers, but his health may lead him to a front office position. He stepped away on July 29 last season with a staph infection in his toe, underwent hip replacement surgery, and has undergone about 12 procedures for stomach issues since 2019.

Maddon, who ended the Chicago Cubs’ curse in 2016 and led Tampa Bay to the American League pennant in 2008, hasn’t publicly expressed any desire to retire. He’s 67, but he’s in the final year of his contract with the Angels. The Angels have a $4 million option in 2023 or a $1 million buyout, but have shown no indication they plan to retain him after the season. Maddon could keep managing elsewhere or join a front office. He also would be a natural in a national broadcasting role.

9. How will COVID-19 and the Omicron variant affect attendance in 2022?

It could be a rough year at the gates for the owners even if ballparks are open at full capacity on opening day.

No cities have announced any restrictions in seating at sporting events, but with the virus wildly spreading, and season tickets flatlining with the lockout, attendance likely will be down again.

MLB drew just 45.3 million fans last year, its lowest total since 1984. It represented a 40.7% decline from the 68.5 million in its last full season in 2019.

Even with ballparks fully open by June, only the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres had an increase in average attendance.

Rest assured, the decline in attendance will be brought up by MLB and the owners during their upcoming labor talks.

10. Ok, so who will win the 2022 World Series?

I’ve somehow managed to correctly predict the last three World Series winners beginning with the Washington Nationals in 2019.

Anything can change with teams still needing to sign free agents and make trades, but on this date, I’m going to predict Atlanta to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champions since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.

Hey, if Atlanta can win the World Series without Ronald Acuña and Marcel Ozuna and remake its outfield on the fly, imagine how powerful it will be when everyone is healthy?

That all changes, of course, if Freddie Freeman is playing for the Dodgers or Yankees and does not return to Atlanta.

Check back with me on opening day on March 31.

The final resting place

Family, friends, teammates, Hall of Famers and commissioners traveled to Atlanta Jan. 5 to pay their final respects to the great, late Henry Aaron, who was laid to rest in a crypt near the parents of Martin Luther King Jr.

Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. drove six hours to attend the service. Hall of Famer Dave Winfield flew in from California. Former commissioner Bud Selig was there, too.

The words on Aaron’s crypt were beautiful.

“I am not concerned about how I am perceived as a baseball player.

“I am concerned about how I am thought of as a human being.’’

“One of Major League Baseball’s Greatest.’’

Twenty colleges and universities have scholarships named in Aaron's honor. He will never be forgotten for his heroics — not only on the baseball field, but off it.

Remembering Jim Fregosi, Jr.

There were about 100 scouts and baseball executives who assembled this past week in Orange County to pay respects to Jim Fregosi Jr., 57, who died last month on his way to the Dominican Republic for a scouting trip.

Former longtime executive Tom Romenesko, the first person to hire Fregosi in baseball after his minor-league playing career, fittingly gave the first speech.

Romenesko hired Fregosi as a coach on the Class A Bend Oregon team in 1991.Fregosi became one of the finest scouts in the business, and was a valued special assistant in the Kansas City Royals organization before he started his own scouting venture, Jim Fregosi Baseball, this fall.

“Jimmy had the talent that I recognized and wanted,’’ Romenesko said. “Nobody wanted to give him a chance. I hired him, went up there, and at 11 in the morning, there was Jimmy raking the third-base area.

“He loved it, and his career took off from there.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see him gone.’’

Around the basepaths

– The Mets have made shrewd veteran hirings for Showalter’s coaching staff with Joey Cora and Wayne Kirby, but also had interest inBeltran and Ryan Flaherty, too.

The San Diego Padres denied permission for the Mets to interview Flaherty, who played six years under Showalter when he managed the Orioles.

The Mets extensively discussed bringing in Beltran, who was highly interested. Yet, it was nixed by the front office because of the potential public relations fallout when Beltran was fired after not managing a single game for his involvement in the Astros’ cheating scandal as a player.

– Don’t be surprised if Mets hitting coach Eric Chavez is Showalter’s successor.

Chavez, one of Mets GM Billy Eppler’s closest friends, was hired by Eppler as a special assistant with the Angels and was nearly hired as the Angels manager in 2018 until owner Arte Moreno stepped in and wanted a manager with experience. They instead hired Brad Ausmus.

Now, with Eppler stealing Chavez from the Yankees, where he was hired three weeks ago as an assistant hitting coach, he could be the manager in waiting.

– What a beautiful and heartfelt gesture by former Iowa Cubs owner Michael Gartner, who handed out checks to all of his 23 full-time employees, paying them $2,000 for each year worked, amounting to $600,000. The longest-tenured employee received $70,000.

– The reason the union believes that MLB’s luxury tax has morphed into a salary cap is that only two teams went over the $210 million threshold: the Dodgers and Padres.

There were four other teams: The Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Phillies and Astros that had payrolls of at least $206 million while making sure they stayed under $210 million.

The Dodgers paid $32.65 million in luxury tax penalties for their record $285.6 million payroll while the Padres paid just $1.29 million for their $216.5 million payroll.

There were 10 teams with payrolls of less than $100 million, the most since 2014, while the $4.05 billion in total salaries was the lowest since 2015.

– Ausmus, who interviewed for the Mets managerial job and the Astros’ job two years ago, has officially accepted a job as the Oakland A’s bench coach working alongside first-year manager Mark Kotsay.

Ausmus, who played 18 years and managed for five years, never has been a coach.

– The MLBPA has more financial clout than at any time in its history preparing for the possibility of a prolonged lockout.

The reserve fund is flush with money with the union keeping the entire licensing checks for players for the past four years. The union also has a stake in Fanatics’ new trading card venture in which they purchased Topps. And they founded the OneTeam Partners licensing firm with the NFL Players Association that is now valued at $2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

So money, for now, won’t be a problem if the lockout somehow extends into the regular season.

– When the lockout ends, no one may be busier than A’s GM David Forst, fielding calls about first baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman. The Yankees will be on the other end of that phone.

– Phillies president Dave Dombrowski, who has always valued veteran scouts, hired Brad Sloan to be a major-league scout to replace retired Terry Ryan. Sloan, a decorated scout, was fired by the Boston Red Sox a year ago.

– Just in case you want to look ahead, the top free agents in next year’s class are Aaron Judge of the Yankees, Trea Turner of the Dodgers, Willson Contreras of the Cubs, J.D. Martinez and Enrique Hernandez of the Red Sox, and Jose Abreu of the White Sox.

– The most intriguing coaching hire this winter was the Angels’ decision to bring Ray Montgomery, 52, down from the front office as their director of player personnel and make him Maddon’s bench coach. It will be Montgomery’s first coaching job. The Angels have also hired Phil Nevin, Benji Gil and Bill Haselman for their staff.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 10 questions and predictions heading into 2022 MLB season