Why the MLB lockout is so detrimental to the Cleveland Guardians
The 2021-2022 MLB lockout is bad for the sport of baseball, from the casual fan to the most highly paid superstar. Here is why it has been and will continue to be especially hard on the Cleveland Guardians.
March 31 should be a day of new beginnings and the exciting possibilities of a new season of Major League Baseball. As the weather begins to turn and the days grow longer, we know that baseball is back in earnest.
That was, at least, supposed to be the case, contingent upon a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA). Since December 2, every player on a 40-man roster has been locked out of organization-affiliated baseball activity, and the offseason has been frozen as solid as winter in northeast Ohio.
Now that the March 1 deadline for a new CBA has passed without any reconciliation between owners and players, March 31 is officially a wishful dream, and a new pang of uncertainty is cast over 2022.
For the Cleveland Guardians, 2022 should have been a fresh start with a bold new identity. The newly-minted Guardians would be taking the field for the first time under the moniker, and baseball would once again bring energy to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus would bring one of the best calls in baseball to the radio waves, and Matt Underwood, Rick Manning, and Andre Knott would bring their broadcast to the fans on the television. Fans would file through Gate C and from the complex plaza between Progressive Field and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to bear witness to Cleveland’s new brand of baseball in 2022.
With the current state of affairs in the world of MLB, all of those would-be’s are currently sitting in limbo. Spring training has been heavily impacted, and the regular season stands to suffer as well given the current lack of cohesion between the owners and the players. Unfortunately, Cleveland may be one of the most negatively impacted teams by the months-long conundrum.
Let’s look at how the failure to agree to a new CBA and the continuation of the lockout can do significant damage to the Cleveland Guardians in 2022.
Stunting the Cleveland Guardians’ Grand Entrance
Given the rebrand from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians, there was a great deal of potential for 2022 to be a year where the organization sets some new precedents and trends for the future. The Guardians-themed merchandise being rolled out to the public, the new ball caps and jerseys slowly being unveiled to the fan base, and the aesthetic changes to Progressive Field have all been major points of interest for a team undergoing a major change in its long-established identity. The longer the lockout continues, the more those points of interest could begin to lose their appeal with the fans.
Think back to 1994, when Jacobs Field was opened for the first full season. Fans in Cleveland flocked to the ballpark to watch a young and exciting team in a sterling, state-of-the-art park located in the heart of a city seemingly back on the rise after decades of misery. Then, in the midst of the euphoria of relevant baseball being back in Cleveland, a player strike based on salary cap and revenue-sharing disputes caused the cancellation of the 1994 postseason and World Series, as well as a delayed start to a shortened 1995 season.
For a team establishing a new identity, playing good baseball through the late summer, and breaking in a brand-new ballpark, losing the end of the season was far from ideal, especially when factoring in the fans buying into the developing young core that would go on to become a power through the rest of the 1990s.
Although the situation in 2022 is not on the same gravitational level for many fans as the 1994 season, there will be some momentum and shine lost as regular season games begin to go by the wayside. Cleveland has a chance to make a splash with a new, city-centric identity as the Guardians, and Major League Baseball marring the transition with an ugly work stoppage does the organization no favors.
As the lockout drags on, fans become more disillusioned with MLB as an organization. With many Cleveland fans already slow to embrace the Guardians due to generations of familiarity with the Indians brand, muddying up the start of 2022 will only serve to damage what should have been a positive step into the team’s new identity. The narrative changes from embracing the Guardians as the team of Cleveland’s baseball future, and ends up focused on why the sport of baseball is so broken compared to other professional sports that have far better labor relations.
If the entire season or a large part of it is lost to cancellations due to an inability to negotiate to acceptable terms between the owners and the MLBPA, Cleveland stands to miss what should have been a golden opportunity to fully seize on the Indians-to-Guardians transition.
Guardians Roster Woes: The Youngsters Added Before the Crunch
It was common knowledge amongst most Guardians fans that the organization would be entering the offseason following the 2021 campaign with a number of big question marks. Addressing persistent outfield woes, enlisting veteran relief pitching, and acquiring a stopgap catcher (the team brought in Sandy Leon prior to the lockout) all rank as major areas of concern on Cleveland’s offseason to-do list, but perhaps the most pressing issue the team had to confront was how to handle the roster crunch leading up to the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft (which has yet to take place).
Through intelligent drafting, strong international signing classes, and adept trade moves, the Guardians have put together one of the most well-stocked systems in baseball. Unfortunately, a large number of prospects were eligible to be taken by other teams in the Rule 5 draft if they were not added to the 40-man roster.
A significant number of young, rising players were shifted onto the 40-man roster in November, meaning that they could not be drafted away from Cleveland during the Rule 5 draft. The likes of George Valera, Brayan Rocchio, Richie Palacios, Tyler Freeman and Cody Morris, among others, were all added, creating a difficult conundrum as preseason festivities began to approach in 2022.
When spring training failed to start on time, instead of being able to show up for minor-league spring training like they would be able to do if they were not on the 40 man roster, all of Cleveland’s young talent that needed protection from the Rule 5 has been stuck on an island since the start of the lockout in December. Instead of getting valuable reps against big-league talent under the guidance of the Guardians’ coaching staff, these youngsters are being forced to self-regulate their training regimens leading up to the season (assuming there is one at this point). Although these guys are upcoming pros and can do a lot individually to get/keep themselves in decent baseball shape, there is something to be said for what they are missing by not having access to a proper spring training or the team complex in Goodyear, Arizona.
With the expectation that some of the 40-man additions will contribute in 2022, every at-bat and rep the youngsters miss against major-league-caliber opposition is potentially setting the team back whenever the 2022 season gets around to starting. The sooner the lockout can be resolved and players can link back up with coaches and officials in the organization, the sooner they can get back to getting the necessary experience to prepare them for their eventual opportunities in the majors.
Going Forward: What Happens When the Lockout Is Resolved?
If MLB and the MLBPA can come to a consensus on terms for a new CBA, the rush to the start of actual games and a rescheduled Opening Day will be an intense whirlwind. Players will need to report to team facilities and begin ramping up to in-season form, and many free agents will need to sign for the sake of job security while teams are scurrying to fill out the rest of their rosters for 2022.
If things play out just right, Cleveland may be able to benefit from some veteran players who are anxious for job security, and are willing to sign quickly at a potential discount. Obviously, there is no guarantee this will happen, but the possibility cannot be ruled out.
If the Guardians are willing to spend some money and add a bit to their payroll, the potential for bringing in decent, contributing veterans could be a good possibility. Snagging a well-rounded outfielder, or a respectable reliever or two should be at the top of Cleveland’s list of priorities if and when (let’s try to stay positive) the lockout is lifted and a CBA is agreed upon.
In addition, the Guardians will need to make some quick decisions about which prospects will be best suited to make an immediate impact in Cleveland. The middle of the infield and the configuration of the outfield will both need to be sorted out. How the bullpen ends up filling out will also need quick attention from the coaching staff. The team will likely not have the benefit of a full slate of exhibition games to make some of these crucial decisions, placing more burden not only on the Guardians, but on teams across Major League Baseball.
At the end of the day, regardless of the disagreements and ill will that led to the lockout, baseball needs to come back. For many, it’s a way to shake the winter blues and transition into the summer months. For others, it is tied to employment, and canceled games means fewer opportunities to work. Collectively, America’s pastime can be a way to escape the craziness of the outside world, and take a step back to enjoy something that has been tied to the fabric of this country for over 150 years. Even with the considerable resentment between the two parties acknowledged, MLB and the MLBPA need to find whatever way they can to move forward together, or risk further damaging the already-hurting game of baseball.