Justin Verlander needs all the spring training he can get.
Photo by Jack Gorman
Despite Major League Baseball and the players' union meeting twice this week (hey, that's progress!), they remain far apart on key elements of a new collective bargaining agreement according to multiple reports. The players have dropped proposals that include changes to the age of players eligible for free agency and demands related to revenue sharing. But, that won't be enough to get a deal done by a long shot.
What this means is that teams and players will not be allowed to participate in offseason workouts or sign deals leaving free agents like Carlos Correa in limbo.
More importantly, we are getting closer to spring training every day. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on February 14 with everyday players a week later. Spring training games would then hopefully begin the last week of February. That leaves roughly a month to save those games, but given the differences between the two sides, that feels increasingly unlikely.
For the Astros, this is a critical offseason. The team still believes, and rightfully so, that it can return for a deep playoff run and potentially another World Series. But they still have some holes to fill, particularly if Correa moves on. Given his decision to hire Scott Boras as his agent and reportedly want 10 years, $300 million, it appears he will play next season in another city. Not only will they need to address shortstop, but they clearly will want to shore up their pitching as well.
This is also a big year for Justin Verlander. The Astros ace missed nearly two full years after a shortened spring training before the opening of the COVID-squelched 2020 season perhaps caused the injury that led to his Tommy John surgery. All reports are that JV is in fine form already, but he is one guy that could certainly use the extra reps prior to the season. Never mind guys like Alex Bregman, who is returning from his own offseason surgery.
As for how far the league will go to get what it wants, owners have reportedly told players that are willing to miss games. For owners, who are mostly billionaires, the cost is worth it if they can produce a collective bargaining agreement that is to their benefit. In the long run, it is better for their bottom line.
The players, however, aren't all wealthy. In fact, most baseball players play only a few years, and yes, they do make good money while they are in the league, it isn't enough to live on forever. The owners know that and know they can squeeze the union with the threat of lost paychecks.
Now, the black eye the league will get from losing any portion of the season would sting, but fans always come back, regardless of the circumstances. Sure, a fight between rich people during a pandemic is a bad look, but not enough to fix the problems they all want to address.
For now, it seems virtually certain at least some of spring training will be lost to the lockout. The hope, especially for the Astros, is the losses will be minimal and they can get back to the business of playing baseball.