The nightmare is finally over. All it took was 99 days.
Ninety-nine days wondering when baseball would start. Ninety-nine days dreading that it might not be back this year, period. Ninety-nine days asking ourselves, over and over, just what the heck is wrong with these people?
It took almost every minute of that agonizing stretch of time for baseball’s power brokers to come to their senses, which they ultimately did shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday.
Of course, that was after yet another "deadline" constructed by Major League Baseball, the sixth by our count, just as dubious as the handful that preceded this one.
Whatever. That’s history now. And as soon as we see players on the field again Sunday — the mandatory reporting date for spring training — everyone will want to forget the ridiculous 3 1⁄2 months it took to get them back there.
Maybe it’s going to take a few days for the fans’ annoyance to fully dissipate, but that fog eventually will lift. Simply watching batting practice in the Florida sunshine is an effective antidote for that.
"I do want to start by apologizing to our fans," said commissioner Rob Manfred, who looked exhausted at the podium after the new CBA was ratified Thursday evening. "I know that the last few months have been difficult. There was a lot of uncertainty at a point in time when there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world. Sort of the way the process of collective bargaining works sometimes, but I do apologize for it."
Manfred was the target of the fans’ frustration during the lockout, but hopefully, for his sake, he’ll get to put the bull’s-eye in the closet for a while as the game gets underway.
Shedding the disorientation could take a little longer for the sport because there’s a ton of catching up to do. Remember, it’s not early February. We’re nearly in mid-March, there are dozens of high-profile free agents still unsigned and Opening Day — now April 7 — arrives in less than a month.
How compressed is the start to the 2022 baseball season? Within four hours of the Players Association agreeing to MLB’s proposal Thursday, the sport’s dormant free-agency period was set to reopen, having been closed since the lockout took effect on Dec. 2.
Before that, business was booming, with teams having spent roughly $1.7 billion on free agents and another $400 million on contract extensions in a little more than a month.
It will be interesting to see how this second act unfolds, and how quickly. Players (and their agents) supposedly were off-limits to team GMs during the lockout, but that’s about as believable as one of Manfred’s deadlines. And with spring training underway in 72 hours, time is extremely short for the likes of Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman and Trevor Story to sign the long-term deals they’re seeking.
Not only that, but front offices have had the past three-plus months to strategize about upgrading the roster, which could lead to a hectic trade market in the days ahead.
The Mets already have invested more than $250 million this winter, pushing their 2022 payroll close to $270 million and prompting MLB to give owner Steve Cohen his very own threshold in this edition of the CBA — a newly minted $290M tier this year — but he’s probably not through spending yet.
As for the Yankees, they never got started before the lockout — sitting out the early frenzy — and with the 2022 threshold starting at $230M, they should be capable of throwing some money around.
As for the CBA itself, the unwieldy document that laid bare the animosity between owners and players, the core economic issues basically wound up where you might expect they should: somewhere in the middle.
For all the deadlines, name-calling and veiled threats, the two sides still managed to get to the place that was obvious from the jump: raising the CBT, increasing minimum salaries and even adding a new pre-arbitration pool. The players more than made up for getting burned in the previous CBA, improving compensation for the younger players and also fending off the CBT’s soft cap as much as possible.
The players also achieved some anti-tanking measures by the implementation of a draft lottery for six teams, limited the playoff expansion to 12 clubs rather than the owners’ desired 14 and still managed to protect their full pay for a 162-game season despite Manfred twice saying he had canceled games, basically to punish them.
"One of the things that I’m supposed to do is promote a good relationship with our players," Manfred said. "I’ve tried to do that. I think that I have not been successful in that."
No kidding. And the combative negotiations with the players didn’t help. All eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee — five of them Scott Boras clients, including two Mets (Max Scherzer and Francisco Lindor) — voted against approving MLB’s final proposal. Fortunately for baseball, the player reps carried the day by a vote of 26-12.
Thank goodness for that. Obviously, the sport still has issues. But its second-longest work stoppage is behind us, along with one of the most onerous CBAs.
We’re getting baseball back. And it’s even better now with the universal DH.