It’s time for our monthly mailbag, and we’ve gotten lots of excellent questions. I’ll answer some today and some more next week. Some questions may be edited for length and clarity.
Question: What is the single biggest issue that is holding up the settlement of the Collective Bargaining Agreement? What is the single issue that could most easily be agreed to in order to move the process forward? Why don’t both sides learn to play nice? Can’t they see that they are shooting themselves in the feet? From: Cathryn C. Girard, Esquire via email
Answer: Cathryn, as the lockout drags on, I think there are two difficult issues to resolve. One is the luxury tax that teams with payrolls over $210 million pay. Players think the amount before a tax is paid should be raised significantly; owners don’t want it raised much. MLB thinks that the luxury tax makes the league more competitive; players think it holds down spending on their salaries.
Another difficult point is arbitration. Since MLB is getting younger, players want to get to get paid earlier in their careers. Currently, players qualify for arbitration at three years; players want to be eligible for arbitration at two years.
There are two other issues that I think could move the process forward. If the owners increased their minimum salary proposal markedly, that would be a big help, and I think the two sides could compromise on proposals for a draft lottery.
As an experienced attorney and baseball fan, it must be frustrating to watch the sides struggle to find common ground. It certainly is for me.
Question: At this point in the stalled owners vs. players labor negotiations, what is the one outstanding issue on which the Orioles are the most concerned about the outcome? From: Glenn Fuller via email
Answer: Glenn, I think a reduction in arbitration eligibility would be concerning to the Orioles. They have a number of young prospects coming to the major leagues, and several in the majors not yet eligible for arbitration. If much of the team were quickly arbitration-eligible, that may be of concern to the team.
Question: I have spring training tickets for the first week of March. With it looking bleak for spring training starting on time, I was wondering if it was possible that the Orioles would consider allowing the minor league players to hold a practice, intrasquad game … something that would allow me to use my tickets and sit in Ed Smith Stadium and enjoy the afternoon watching baseball. Allow refunds for those who want that, otherwise sell some hot dogs and beer to me. From: Vic Matusak via email
Answer: Vic, that’s a good question, and Larry S., who lives in Sarasota has a similar one.
The Orioles haven’t announced any plans for minor league spring training, but Twin Lakes Park, which is about 11 miles from Ed Smith Stadium, will be the headquarters for it. I’m not sure if Twin Lakes will be open to fans, but as soon as I hear some news about it, I’ll write it.
I doubt they’ll bring minor leaguers to Ed Smith and open the stadium to fans and sell hot dogs and beer to fans.
Question: The Orioles have two players listed in the top 10 minor league prospects. When was the last time this has occurred? Which team and who were the players? From: Bill Dowd via email
Answer: Bill, Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez are rated first and sixth by Baseball America. The Detroit Tigers also have two players in the top 10 — outfielder Riley Greene is rated fourth, and first baseman Spencer Torkelson is rated fifth.
In 2020, the Seattle Mariners also had two players in the top 10 — outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kalenic, rated sixth and ninth.
Question: Has the sun set on guys like Richie Martin, Yusniel Diaz and DJ Stewart? Do you really expect them on the roster Opening Day? Why or why not? From: @bmoreboss61
Answer: Mark, I think Stewart is the most likely of the three to be on the Opening Day roster, and Yusniel Diaz is the least likely. Stewart could be pressed by Kyle Stowers later in the year, and perhaps by a veteran if the Orioles sign an experienced outfielder when the lockout ends. They would love to see what Diaz can do, but he needs to have at least two months of good health and good play before they’d consider promoting him.
As for shortstop Richie Martin, he could still make the team, even as a non-roster player if there’s an injury or two in the infield. Ramón Urías seems to be the nominal starting shortstop with Jorge Mateo a possibility there. Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg could make their major league debuts later this year, but they’re more likely a year away. If Martin doesn’t make it with the team in 2022, he’ll likely be eclipsed by younger players.
Question: What player do you think could have a breakout year? Like Cedric Mullins did last year, even if it’s not quite that spectacular. From: @Jhallowell21
Answer: Jordan, I know I’m not making a wild prediction here, but how about catcher Adley Rutschman? I know it’s expected that he’ll do well, but I’ll predict that he’ll justify being the top pick in the draft when he’s added to the roster.
As for other players, I’d take a shot at outfielder Austin Hays. He hit well late in the season, and I’ll guess he has a healthy 2022 with better stats.
Question: Who are some of your all-time favorite backup catchers for the Orioles? I personally liked Caleb Joseph. From: Woodrow Rogers via Facebook
Answer: Woodrow, that’s an interesting question. Caleb Joseph was my favorite, too. He was accessible and helpful to reporters. I also liked Austin Wynns, who was extremely friendly, but Joseph does better impressions than Wynns.
Going back a number of years, I really liked Lenny Webster, who backed up Chris Hoiles on their 1997 AL East championship team.
Question: Rich, please tell me that one of the things that’s going to change in MLB is that they’re going to get rid of starting every extra inning with a runner on second base. I hate that rule. From: Dave Gruber via email
Answer: Dave, rules for the 2022 season haven’t been decided, but there doesn’t seem to be any momentum for bringing back the “ghost runner” rule nor the seven-inning doubleheaders. Those rules were instituted because of the pandemic, and neither the players nor the owners are thrilled with them.
I liked both of them. I thought the automatic runner added some strategy to the game and, without it, too many batters swing for a home run, trying to end a game that invariably is lengthened.