With talks continuing between MLB and the MLB players association over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), there are plenty of potential scenarios floating around regarding spring training–including games with minor leaguers.
After two high-profile meetings at the beginning of last week, talks quietly continued on lower-level issues, and we are expecting more talks this week. (No, no talks today.) Though a few players have been vocal in their criticism of the talks, there’s been a remarkable silence on negotiations from both sides. Of course, the silence means there’s a vacuum on the info front, and both nature and Twitter abhors a vacuum. So we’re hearing a lot of extrapolation and tons of opinions, especially on Twitter. But those folks are not in the room where it happens, and neither are we. So we can’t say how the CBA talks will impact spring training–yet.
But there are two developments for us to pass along. First, the folks who actually run spring training are moving forward with business as usual, hiring employees and holding job fairs. They’re not been told to suspend operations. This is not totally surprising: MLB players are not set to report until Feb. 16 or so, with games beginning Feb. 25-26. So we’re still early in terms of making decisions about canceled or postponed games.
Second, there’s been talk about minor leaguers (players not on 40-man rosters) being asked to potentially report early for spring training–Feb. 21 or so. She’s not the only one reporting this and not the only one in baseball discussing this possibility, but here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s highly reliable Susan Slusser on the topic:
It sounds as if minor-leaguers not on the 40-man roster are getting spring-training report dates of Feb. 21/thereabouts. Going to be a real push for MLB/union to come to terms on something that gets 40-man players in camp by then.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) January 25, 2022
The obvious implication is that we could see spring-training games begin on time with minor leaguers in the lineups until rostered players arrive. Let’s face it: even in a normal year you would not see many MLB stars in lineups the first week of spring-training games. Mike Trout isn’t going to play every day for the Angels in late February and early March, and high-profile pitchers like Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole won’t pitch more than three or four innings per match in the first few weeks of games. The stars use the final two weeks of games to reach game shape, not early-February contests.
We know different folks approach spring training for different reasons. There are certainly the hardcores who want to see MLB-level play in Arizona and Florida; they’re the ones who show up after March 15 or so. (Because of COVID-19, player accessibility is going to be heavily curtailed; sorry, autograph hunters.) We know there are plenty of retirees in both Arizona and Florida who treat spring training as a homecoming; they’re held season tickets at Publix Field at Joker Marchant or Scottsdale Stadium or years and years and are on a first-name basis with everyone in their section. Seeing a great game is a bonus, but not a requirement. And there are those fans who travel to spring training for their own personal spring break; as long as there’s a Minnesota Twins or Seattle Mariners uniform on the field and the beer is cold and the sun is warm, they’ll be happy. Will it matter to you if the first week of games are manned mainly by future Quad Cities River Bandits or Augusta GreenJackets?
The big issue for you, of course, is how this affects your spring-training planning. Honestly, our advice hasn’t changed since December, when the lockout was imposed by MLB. Teams and ballpark operators are still prepping for spring training with the assumption that games will begin Feb. 25-26. There’s no firm date as to when the lockout will affect spring training; some say Feb. 1, others say Feb. 8, and others point out that players aren’t even due to report to training camp until Feb. 16 or so. Because there’s still some give on the calendar, you can still plan for spring training–but do so smartly. First, be sure to make as many parts of your plans are as refundable as possible. That means hotel and reservations that can be canceled at the last minute. That means not prepaying car and hotel reservations, even at a cheaper rate. And that means shopping for airfares with minimal impact fees for cancelations or changes. Second, try to plan a trip for the middle to end of March, in case spring training is delayed and February games are scrapped.