Little by little, then all of a sudden. This is how the new ABC was created, guaranteeing that there will be baseball in 2022 and beyond. It ended Thursday with the players voting to accept the owners’ latest proposal, and it ended in time for it all to end up feeling like a bad dream.
What I mean by that is we still get 162 full games. Despite all the talk about canceled playoffs, the league agreed to rearrange the schedule to fit everything in. Opening day is now set for April 7, which isn’t that far from the typical baseball schedule. Casual fans won’t even notice the difference.
But you’re not a casual fan, of course. You play Fantasy Baseball and you are used to following certain rhythms. And it’s probably not lost on you that April 7 is only four weeks.
So what do you need to know to start your own league? What can you expect and when? First, a quick overview of some rule changes that probably won’t have a huge impact on our game:
- Beginning in 2023, MLB has a 45-day window to implement rule changes without player approval. If you’ve heard of eliminating offsets or putting in taller clocks and taller bases, that’s where it fits in. We’ll deal with that next year.
- Also from 2023, teams will play fewer division games and play each of the other 29 teams at least once.
- The playoffs will expand to 12 teams. The top two teams in each league will get a bye, with the other four playing in a best-of-three wild card round.
- The top six draft picks will now be determined by a lottery system.
- Players can be opted for minors a maximum of five times in any given season.
- Doubleheaders returned to normal (each game being nine innings).
- Extra innings are back to normal (no more free runners on second base).
- Forfeiture of draft picks for free agents is on hold for the time being and will be eliminated entirely if the two sides can agree on an international draft by July 25.
Now for the stuff that really Questions …
A deluge of news
Remember free agency? Yeah, the league hit the pause button in early December, before some of these top free agents had a chance to sign:
- Freddie Freeman, 1B
- History of Trevor, SS
- Carlos Correa, SS
- Nick Castellanos, OF
- Kenley Jansen, PR
- Kris Bryant, 3B/OF
- Kyle Schwarber, DE
- Clayton Kershaw, PS
- Carlos Rodon, PS
- Nelson Cruz, DH
- Jorge Soler, DE
- Michael Conforto, DE
- Eddie Rosario, OF
- Zack Greinke, PS
These are most relevant to Fantasy Baseball’s needs, but there are something like 200 unsigned free agents in total. And that doesn’t even take into account all the trading possibilities.
In the end, the teams still have work to do and they don’t have a lot of time to do it. The prevailing presumption is that the majority of these deals will happen within the first couple of days, but they are obviously not the kind to close anytime soon.
The truth is, we don’t have many precedents for how this will play out. Faster is better for several reasons. This would allow you to plan for your league’s draft with confidence, yes, but it would also improve the chances of those players being ready for the start of the season. For anything that takes two weeks or more to sign, I have my doubts, especially with pitchers.
Speaking of what…
New concerns over the health of pitchers
The typical spring training schedule (six weeks or so) is for responsible pitching buildup. Nobody walks out the door pitching six innings. Most start with a round or two and gradually build up from there, hopefully reaching the point where they can do more than six at the start of the season.
This year, they won’t have that luxury. The players are expected to report on Sunday. Games are scheduled to start that same Thursday, just three weeks before opening day. How good can starting pitchers be expected to be, and is there any danger in rushing their schedules?
Unlike free agents, we do have a precedent for how it will play out. It feels like we all have it in our memory, but just two years ago we saw the same precipitous build up to the start of the season, this time due to pandemic politics, and it didn’t. was ultimately not so serious.
Overall, pitchers reached their typical workload within a few rounds, and I remind you that the stakes for them were much higher then. We were only considering a 60-game season. If they had taken too long to build, the investment would have been a total waste. A few rounds in a 162-game season is a relative drop in the bucket.
Granted, there may be longer-term consequences over 162 games rather than 60, but identifying which pitchers will get hurt as a result is not something you can expect anyone to do.
Ultimately, I don’t think it changes how you build your team. This may or may not impact how you set your alignment for the first two weeks, but this is one of those situations where any correction is likely to overcorrect.
A universal DH
The DH arrives full-time at the NL. It was expected but it is now official. I’ve written about which players are most likely to be affected, which of course is subject to change as free agency unfolds. (The quintessential DH, Nelson Cruz, remains unsigned, after all.) For now, though, I think the job can speak for itself.
There’s also the side issue of NL pitchers potentially seeing their numbers suffer with an actual hitter now in that No. 9 spot, but the effect will be felt more on the macro level than the micro level, I guess. As with the shortened spring training, we already have some experience with this. The NL also used the DH during the shortened 2020 season, and it’s not like the pitching rankings were upset as a result.
Whatever degree you could have demoted an NL pitcher who went to the AL, I guess you can now for all. I feel comfortable saying that my current SP ranking already takes this into account.
An accelerated schedule for prospects?
This one can fall into the category of wishful thinking. At least on a superficial level, the New ABC has taken steps to combat the practice commonly referred to as “tanking” – that is, choosing not to field a competitive club for several years in the hope of reviving the competitive cycle. I mentioned the draft lottery before, but there are also limits to the number of consecutive years a team can include in it.
However, tanking is less about maximizing draft returns and more about ensuring that a team’s best players are also the cheapest. And one of the ways to ensure that is by manipulating time-to-service, which is the practice of delaying a prospect’s promotion until it’s most beneficial financially.
Again, ABC News sought to address the issue, but only superficially. Teams can now be awarded draft picks for the promotion of players who earn certain awards, but is that carrot enough? I’d love to say that Bobby Witt, Adley Rutschman, Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene and others have a better chance than ever of making the opening roster, but I’m skeptical. The odds of Witt remain quite high, but the others I would treat more like a draft and a stash in hopes of coming in the first 2-6 weeks.
I have already said that the longer the lockout lasts, the higher Acuna will rise in the rankings. Now that we’re at the end, I’m not sure it lasted long enough. He is still working his way back from a torn ACL, and at last report in November, he himself was only aiming for May. If he’s still on the same schedule, I doubt we’ll see him in spring training.
I need to see him play in an actual game — spring training or otherwise — before I’m ready to invest a first-round pick in him. His rehabilitation must be so advanced. I need assurance that he is able to make all the cuts, change direction and so on. Otherwise, the chances of a setback are too high.
Players late to report
A forgotten consequence of this shortened 2020 season that we all remember is that players who needed visas to show up for spring training were delayed – some significantly. It turns out not everyone can react that quickly to instant spring training, and when it’s short to boot, those players have a razor-thin margin for Opening Day.
Already, we hear about one whose start of the season will probably be delayed because of visa problems.
Admittedly, the hurdles surely won’t be as difficult to clear as they were during the height of the COVID-19 panic, but here’s the bet that Ranger Suarez won’t be the only player affected.