It’s time for our monthly mailbag. Many of the questions are about the labor situation, but there are other good ones, too. I’ll be answering some today and more on Tuesday. Questions are edited for length and clarity.
Question: It seemed to me you were fairly confident a resolution to the collective bargaining agreement was going to come by the end of February and that the season would begin on time. What’s your guess now? From: Dave Gruber via email
Answer: Not only did I think that there would be a new collective bargaining agreement by the end of February, I thought there would be one by early February so that camps could open on time, Dave.
I think it could take as long as a month to settle the dispute, and I’m guessing at an Orioles home opener of May 2nd. Anything much earlier than that would be a happy surprise.
Question: Are major league managers and coaches paid during the lockout? Is it possible that Brandon Hyde and his coaches will be helping out at Norfolk, Bowie, Aberdeen, and Delmarva? From: Tom from Elkton
Answer: Tom, managers and coaches are paid during the lockout. Hyde and his coaches are conducting drills for the top prospects in Sarasota. I suppose if this isn’t settled in a month when minor league seasons begin, they could, but they’ll probably be needed to prepare for a quick start to spring training.
Question: Do you see fans coming back as a true issue? From: Jeff Wickard via Facebook
Answer: Jeff, I think it’s an important issue, and one that won’t be addressed by the two sides.
Many fans of the game are understandably turned off by the dispute, and I think that following its solution, most fans will return to the ballpark. However, if even 10 percent refuse to go back, baseball suffers immensely. I think you’ll see smaller crowds when the games begin and, perhaps later in the year, fans will return to the game.
Question: The players have given a lot of ground while the owners very little. This has led to some speculation that the owners are looking to break the union. How likely is Major League Baseball willing to push the season in hopes of doing that? From: Kevin Gish via Facebook
Answer: Kevin, I think most owners are realistic enough to think that they’re not going to break the union. Both the owners and players are solid in the belief of their positions.
I think the players will remain solid, but a greater loss of regular-season games could help bring an end to the dispute.
Question: Why are you not covering O’s minor league spring training? Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Stowers, Jordan Westburg, Gunnar Henderson and others are in spring training. O’s fans are hungry for O”s news. From: Ken S from Leesburg
Answer: Ken and our old friend Alan Riester (Orial) are eager for minor league news, and we’ll have plenty of it beginning on Wednesday.
The media will be allowed at minor league camp beginning on Tuesday, but interviews are being conducted via Zoom. We’ve made the decision to stay at home for now until major league spring training begins, but there will be minor league news on the site in the interim.
Should the lockout continue after the minor league seasons begin in early April, we’ll be providing ample in-person game coverage from the minor league affiliates.
Question: I’m still going on my spring training trip tomorrow, although all of next week’s games have been canceled. I was wondering if the Orioles are holding a minor league camp in Sarasota and, if so, is it open to the public? From: Barbara Kreft via email
Answer: Barbara, I hope you’re enjoying the great weather in Sarasota.
Pitchers and catchers have already reported to minor league camp in Twin Lakes and position players will report early this week. Some of the bigger-name prospects are working out at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
For now, those workouts are closed to the public, but that may change. Minor league games at Twin Lakes begin on March 16th and run through April 3rd. The Orioles have promised an update early this week, and I’ll pass it along when I get one.
Question: Can the owners start a season using replacement players and minor league players. The Orioles could field of pretty good team, and I think it would be enjoyable to watch Rutschman, Henderson, Westburg, Stowers and Rodriguez. From: JR On The Shore via email
Answer: JR, the owners have locked out the players. To replace them with minor league players would be illegal. You’ll be able to watch the top minor league players in the minor leagues next month, and perhaps with the Orioles later in 2022.
Question: Will the Oriole minor league seasons proceed as scheduled even if MLB continues with the lockout? From: Mike1966 via email
Answer: Mike, the Orioles’ minor league affiliates will begin as scheduled. Norfolk’s first home game is on April 5th, Bowie and Delmarva’s first home games are April 8th, and Aberdeen’s home opener is April 12th.
Question: While we’re not privy to owners’ meetings/conversations, I have to believe there is a lot of dissatisfaction regarding the strategy of locking out the players and then not seriously negotiating until six weeks into the lockout. Do you see a scenario where Rob Manfred will be ousted after the dust settles? From: Harvey Rosenfeld via email
Answer: Harvey, you’re right, we don’t know what’s happening within MLB owners’ meetings, but I don’t get the sense that Manfred is in any trouble. He’s doing what the owners want him to do.
Bud Selig was acting commissioner for the 1994-1995 strike, which harmed baseball greatly. Not only was he not removed but stayed in his job for nearly 20 additional years.
Question: If they ever come to terms on a new contract, do you think that there will be a salary-cap floor? How would that affect the Birds at the major league and minor league levels? What two players or positions would you fill? I would try to get two pitchers until the younger ones in the organization push them aside. Thanks. From: Johnaton Meekins via email
Answer: Johnaton, a salary floor was proposed earlier in the negotiations, but it’s been dropped. Had there been a salary floor, it probably would have been phased in, but they could have signed a starting pitcher or two and signed one of their veteran players to an extension.
Question: I understand the rationale behind the baseball negotiation issues except for one topic: Why would the players oppose expanding the playoff field to 14 since that would mean more money for the players as well as the owners? That would seem like a win-win for players, owners, and fans. From: Glenn Fuller via email
Answer: Glenn, I also think that everyone would profit from a 14-team playoff. Players believe that while it could encourage more teams who could qualify for the postseason to spend, the larger-market teams might not spend as aggressively because they’re likely to qualify in an expanded postseason. They also believe that division winners wouldn’t be rewarded adequately in an expanded playoff.
While I generally think the fewer playoff teams the better, the teams with the best regular-season record in each league don’t often win their league championships.
Look at the Washington Nationals in 2019. They barely won a single-elimination wild-card game and ended up winning the World Series. Last year, the Atlanta Braves had the fifth-best record in the National League and won the Series.
That’s part of the fun of the postseason. If a team gets on a roll in September and qualifies for the postseason and gets hot in October, they can win it.
I also think an expanded playoff serves as a deterrent to tanking. Maybe the Orioles know they’re unlikely to win the American League East, but with seven teams in the postseason, perhaps at some point soon they’ll have a better chance.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB