A slightly shorter 2022 season isn’t the worst outcome for the Red Sox
We’ve reached deadline day and the sides still remain far apart on a new collective bargaining agreement, according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. If a deal isn’t reached by today, Major League Baseball has threatened to cancel Opening Day along with the potential for more games being wiped from the schedule. While the cancellation of any regular season games might appear to be a doomsday scenario for the sport, a shorter season isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Boston Red Sox.
I’ll preface this with a reminder that this is an owner-imposed deadline that only holds meaning if the league chooses for it to matter. The owners could end the lockout at any time to allow training camp to begin even if a deal isn’t in place yet. They haven’t done so because the threat of losing paychecks is the greatest leverage the league has over the MLBPA.
The owners are clinging to hope that their deadline will force the players to cave to their demands. They won’t admit this publicly since it would cost them valuable leverage in negotiations but if a deal were to be reached tomorrow or a few days from now, it’s not difficult to imagine the sides figuring out a way to begin the season on time. If the players don’t back down today, it’s a sign they are willing to call the owners’ bluff.
Owners have been dragging their feet while counting down to their artificial deadline in order to put pressure on the players. Neither side benefits from a completely cancelled season and the owners can only allow this stalemate to go on for so long before they risk irrevocable damage to their sport. If the MLBPA stands firm, the owners will eventually realize they need to make a more serious offer.
The deal might come too late to save Opening Day on March 31 and there’s only so many days they can delay the start of the season without pushing the World Series deep into November. Cancelling games might be inevitable but it’s not necessarily a deathknell to the season.
A 162-game season is arguably too long to begin with. The days of ironmen such as Cal Ripken Jr. are long gone. Players don’t take the field for every game anymore. Last season, only Rafael Devers appeared in at least 150 games for the Red Sox (he played 156). The last time a Red Sox player made it to 160 games was Dustin Pedroia in 2013.
Nobody wants a repeat of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with only 60 games but it’s unlikely that either side would sacrifice that much of the schedule. If we were to lose about a week of the season they could still play a 154-game season. Both leagues played 154 games until expansion in the early 1960s.
Most players aren’t going to play more than 154 games anyway. A slightly shorter season potentially means players don’t need to be rested as often and therefore sit out fewer games. Taking a start or two away from each starting pitcher or a few appearances from relievers should help keep their arms fresh down the stretch.
Players are going to need at least a month to ramp up for the season. If there are limitations on how far they can realistically push back Opening Day while completing a full season, cancelling a week or two of games is better than rushing players through an abbreviated training camp. We saw how that turned into a disaster in 2020. Players showed up out of shape and unprepared, leading to sloppy play on the field and an increased risk of injuries.
The cancellation of any regular season games is an unappealing outcome from a fan perspective but it ultimately wouldn’t be a drastic change. Anywhere in the neighborhood of 150 games is a sufficient sample to determine which teams are worthy of advancing to the postseason. If the owners get their way with an expanded postseason, the loss of regular season games could be partially balanced out with an increase in the number of games that matter most.
This lockout is being driven by the greed and stubbornness of the owners. They haven’t shown a willingness to make an acceptable level of concessions to the players because they know they hold the leverage. If this deadline passes with the MLBPA unwavering on their demands, that leverage slowly begins to slip away. There will come a point where the owners begin feeling the pressure and they will be forced to make a reasonable deal in time to salvage a reasonable portion of the schedule.