The top MLB storylines during the lockout

Baseball Januarys used to be quiet, teams largely completing their Hot Stove acquisitions by the holidays.

Then free agency dragged into the new year and well beyond, turning January into just as viable a transaction month as its offseason predecessors.

Then Rob Manfred locked out the players, rendering January a baseball graveyard once more.

But there will be baseball news soon enough, and the flip of the calendar provides the perfect excuse to hit the reset button and check in on the major storylines that will occupy us until pitchers and catchers report to spring training … which could occur in mid-February, as originally scheduled, or could not.

The lockout

Manfred implemented the stoppage at midnight on Dec. 1, as soon as he legally could. And since then, the owners and players have communicated about as much as Marty Markowitz and his estranged sister in “The Shrink Next Door.” The players association believes that the onus falls upon the league to make the next proposal on core economic issues. As USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported, as of Monday there were no scheduled meetings.

That will change soon enough because, as we saw in the days leading up to the lockout, replete with huge contracts, real deadlines spark action. And the real, if imprecise, deadline, for the two sides to get a deal done without delaying spring training is Feb. 1.

Buck Showalter, Rob Manfred and Freddie Freeman.
AP (2), Getty Images

I’ll bet that deadline gets missed, based on the current acrimony. I’ll also bet, albeit a smaller amount, that the season nevertheless starts on time (with camp curtailed) in the wake of the financial beating that everyone took in 2020 and with the Omicron variant cruelly reminding us that COVID remains a considerable impediment to normalcy.

Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s ballot results will be announced on Jan. 25, and the best hope for this group (which counts me as a member) to avoid a second straight shutout appears to be David Ortiz. In his first year of eligibility, the ubiquitous Red Sox slugger has gathered over 80 percent support of the 100-plus voters who have publicized their choices, as per @NotMrTibbs on Twitter. With 75 percent required for election, Ortiz possesses some breathing room, and it’s not clear yet how he’ll be treated by those who keep their votes private.

Whereas all-time greats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both in their 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot, own a history of sinking in the final counts. So the odds favor both being sent officially into purgatory; while they can be considered by the era committees, those folks have displayed little sympathy toward alleged illegal performance-enhancing drug users.

Oh, and also, it’s Curt Schilling’s last chance for his brilliant career to overcome his hateful comments (it should, although it might not) and Alex Rodriguez’s initial opportunity to gauge his chances (they don’t look great, not surprisingly). Busy ballot!

Mets coaching staff.

The Mets’ hiring delay continues to ripple as new manager Buck Showalter and his new general manager Billy Eppler must determine Showalter’s deputies everywhere besides pitching coach (lone holdover Jeremy Hefner owns that gig). Whatever intrigue there is surrounds Carlos Beltran, whose many Mets ties includes Eppler from their shared Yankees time.

Hot Stove speculation

Since the lockout limits clubs to minor league contracts, we’re left to ponder the frenzy that will occur when and if a new collective bargaining agreement is signed. Surely the Yankees will execute at least one big move (Freddie Freeman? Carlos Correa? Matt Olson? Trevor Story?) to shake up their lineup, right? Surely the Mets, having done much heavy lifting prior to the freeze, will keep going, pushing Steve Cohen’s payroll toward and beyond the record-setting figure of $300 million, right? Surely the defending-champion Braves and the Dodgers, whom they defeated in the National League Championship Series, will execute some impactful moves. And the Rays surely will acquire some under-the-radar guy who will outperform most of the big names.

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