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Caroline Burke / Gavel Media

MLB Lockout Ends: What's Next?

First, a little bit of recap: on December 2nd, the MLB and MLBPA’s collective bargaining agreement expired, which meant that there was no longer anything binding the relationship between professional baseball players and their teams’ owners. Consequently, as everybody predicted, MLB owners began a lockout to gain the upper hand during negotiations with their players. In turn, during the period of uncertainty, MLB fans received notifications ranging from unnerving news such as Spring Training and Opening Day being delayed, and eventually multiple series being canceled, to outright absurd news, like players' faces being taken off of the MLB’s websites. Commissioner Rob Manfred was also under a lot of fire from fans and media during the lockout, with one angry fan starting “Man-Fraud” chants outside of the MLB’s New York City headquarters. Towards the end of February, as both parties became increasingly frustrated with their inability to reach an agreement, they met daily for a two week period to end the lockout as soon as possible.

Thankfully, on Friday, March 11th the lockout finally ended. Despite the communal sigh of relief among baseball fans, the end of the lockout raises several questions. Namely, what new rules and agreements have been made, and what does the end of the lockout mean for this season’s schedule?

Baseball will look fairly different as a result of rule changes made during the lockout. First, the COVID precautionary rules set in place before the 2020 season have been reverted back to their original ways. This includes the reinstatement of 9-inning games during double headers and the removal of the automatic baserunner in scoring position in extra-innings.

In exciting news, the MLB also ended the everlasting “should pitchers hit?” debate with the new implementation of the universal designated hitter. Additionally, the MLB expanded the postseason from ten teams to twelve. In the 2022 postseason, in each league, the top two seeds will earn a bye week, while the remaining four seeds will compete in two separate three game series. Also, if the All-Star Game manages to go into extra-innings, rather than normal baseball, the game will be decided by a Home Run Derby.

It should also be mentioned that the MLB is experimenting with other major rule changes in the minor leagues. First, the shift will be banned. While some baseball fans see its merits and say that it’s a fair part of the game, others, if not most, think that it makes the game boring. In the minor leagues this season, teams will be required to have 4 infielders at all time, and 2 on either side of second base. Next, the minor leagues are imposing a pitch clock in an attempt to speed up the game. Pitchers are now only granted either 14 or 19 seconds to get a pitch off, depending on whether there are runners on base.

In terms of the 2022 seasons new scheduling, baseball is back in full-swing. Free agency has picked up right where it left off, with numerous big signings and trades being made already in the first few days since the end of the lockout. All-Star players including Kris Bryant (Rockies), Freddie Freeman (Dodgers), and Zack Greinke (Royals) have all signed with different teams since free agency reopened.

Baseball games are also officially back, with players reporting to their camps and multiple Spring Training Games already being played. Before the lockout, opening day was scheduled to be on March 31st. Instead, regular season baseball will officially begin on April 7th, with an eight game slate for Opening Day. While a week of the season was unfortunately canceled, there are two important things to remember: first, the canceled series will be played throughout the year with double headers and second, there was a time when it was unclear whether there would be a season at all, so we are lucky to have one. The agonizing wait and uncertainty is finally over for baseball fans, so we can all finally return to watching baseball instead of spending our time hating on Rob Manfred.

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