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Soon after initial talks broke down the MLB and the MLB Players Association reached an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in time to save the 162-game season, albeit with a revised schedule. The deal includes quite a few changes to the structure of the sport, not the least of which is an expanded postseason.
For the Cleveland Guardians, the mandatory report date for Spring Training now is this Sunday, when camps officially open. Players can report as early as Friday. While the Spring Training television schedule is still not quite complete, Cleveland fans can see the players they're used to under a new Guardians nickname.
The regular season, meanwhile, begins Thursday, April 7 for Cleveland. That is one week later than the originally scheduled date (March 31), which was pushed back due to the labor negotiations. The games originally scheduled for March 31 through April 6 will be made up of three games at the end of the previously scheduled regular season and as part of nine-inning doubleheaders.
The Guardians will open their inaugural season on the road in Kansas City against the division-rival Royals. The following day will be a rest day for Cleveland before they complete their series in Kansas City and head home. After that, the Guardians will open up the gates to the corners of Carnegie and Ontario to fans as they host the San Francisco Giants at Progressive Field.
On the field, there are going to be some changes Cleveland will see this season. The big one for 2022 is the National League’s adoption of the designated hitter. The universal designated hitter was installed for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. After that, the National League reverted to its traditional rules for 2021. But going forward, pitchers will no longer have a spot in the batting order which is something the Guardians will see early into the year when they host the Giants.
Not only that, but, traditional extra-inning rules return under the new rules, starting this season. The sport will do away with the “ghost runner” that was first instituted in 2020, a rule that had teams begin each extra inning with a runner on second base the past two seasons. Speaking of innings, nine-inning doubleheaders, after twin-bill games were seven innings each over the past two seasons are back with the Guardians having to play several at the end of the season to make up on lost time.
Beginning in 2023, a Joint Competition Committee comprised of four active players, six members appointed by MLB and one umpire will be tasked with making decisions on other changes, such as a pitch clock, limits on defensive shifts, larger bases and the automatic ball/strike system. Any rule changes that committee adopts can be implemented with 45 days’ notice to the players. Changes are coming to speed up the game and make the overall experience more enjoyable for fans. But, it's going to take time to get there and these initial changes are great places to start.
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Cincinnati's Jesse Winker could be an option for the Guardians in order to shore up their outfield.
Down the line, if Cleveland happens to be in a position to make the playoffs, and many think they have a shot as a Wild Card team, it'll be under a new format. The playing field has been expanded from 10 teams (five in each league) to 12 teams (six in each league), with three division winners and three Wild Card teams in each league. The top two division winners from the American and National League will receive byes to the Division Series. The other four teams in each league will play best-of-three series in what will be called the Wild Card round, with the higher seed hosting all three games.
After that, there will be no re-seeding for Division Series. The No. 1 seed plays the winner of the 4-5 series, and the No. 2 seed plays the winner of 3-6. There will also be no more play-in games for the league to figure out who's in and who's out. Going forward, the MLB will have all playoff spots determined through tiebreaker formats.
But, in order to get there, the Guardians need to clean up their roster and rotations a bit. Free agency opened a little after 7 p.m. ET on Thursday night when the CBA was ratified. Trades and trade talks can also proceed as well. This roster, as it stands, is far from being Opening Day ready and the biggest issues are in the outfield. The outfield has been Cleveland’s biggest headache for the last few seasons. The Guardians did find an answer in center field at last year’s Trade Deadline, securing Myles Straw from the Houston Astros. Now, the attention turns toward the corners.
A name that makes a lot of sense for Cleveland, and could be obtainable, is All-Star Jesse Winker from the Cincinnati Reds. Winker's red-hot campaign in 2021 that consisted of a .305 average, a .949 OPS, 24 homers, 71 RBIs and 32 doubles was limited to just 110 games due to a strain in his ribs. And with the uncertainty at shortstop for the Reds, the Guardians may be able to put together an intriguing offer that could pique Cincinnati's fancy.
Other than that, all eyes will be on what will happen next between Cleveland and shortstop Jose Ramirez and whether or not he'll be extended or traded. Extension talks will surely occur in the early weeks of Spring Training, but it’s difficult to know how the lockout affected any of the organization’s plans for negotiating prior to Opening Day. The biggest takeaway at this point is that all signs seem to be pointing toward Ramírez remaining with Cleveland. He has an affordable team option for 2023. The Guardians want to prove that they're not in a rebuilding phase and is ready to contend again and to do so, they’ll need their superstar third baseman.
Whether he’s traded at some point, signed to a multiyear extension or stays via the club option remains to be seen. But for now, Ramírez in Cleveland for 2022 seems like a safe bet. It's also a safe bet to finally say that baseball is back and it should be an exciting year overall for the Guardians.
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