Let's go! Everything to know for 2022 season
To say it has been a strange couple of years in Major League Baseball is an understatement. The pandemic uprooted and significantly shortened a 2020 season played primarily in empty parks. Then, following the 2021 season, the lockout froze all big league transactions for 99 cold winter days.
But as Opening Day arrives on Thursday, a genuine and very much welcomed sense of normalcy arrives with it. There are 162 games on the schedule, there will be fans in the seats from the outset, the labor talks are in the rearview and the focus is right where it belongs -- on the field, where the greatest assemblage of baseball talent shines.
If you’ve paid only loose attention to an unusual and action-packed offseason and are trying to sort through all the changes that came with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, this handy guide is for you.
These are the 50 things you need to know about the 2022 season.
1. First and foremost, the postseason field has been expanded from 10 teams to 12 (three division winners and three Wild Card clubs per league).
2. That’s going to impact everything you see this season. More games that matter, more markets emotionally invested and more teams looking for ways to improve at the Trade Deadline.
3. Rather than a one-game play-in between the two Wild Card clubs in each league, the postseason’s first round will feature a total of four best-of-three series. In each league, the two “traditional” Wild Card clubs will face each other, and the division winner with the worst record of the three will face the additional Wild Card club. The winners of those series will advance to the best-of-five Division Series against the other two division winners, followed by the best-of-seven League Championship Series and World Series, per usual.
4. As a result of the postseason expansion, there will not be any tiebreaker games. Math will be used to settle any ties so that the first-round series can begin promptly after the conclusion of the regular season.
5. And as a result of the lockout, which delayed Opening Day by a week, a bunch of doubleheaders have been sprinkled into the schedule, which was also extended a few days to squeeze in a makeup series for every team.
6. The Trade Deadline has changed, too. Rather than the traditional July 31 (which falls on a Sunday this year), it will be Tuesday, Aug. 2, at 6 p.m. ET. So set those timers.
Of course, before we can even think about the Trade Deadline, we have to adjust our eyes to some …
Familiar faces in new places
7. This was, by far, the biggest-spending free agency period in MLB history, with more than $3 billion in contractual agreements made. And the trade market offered some stunners, too. That’s why…
8. The defending champs look different. The Braves traded for A’s first baseman Matt Olson to replace Freddie Freeman, Atlanta’s homegrown MVP. The return of Marcell Ozuna from injury and suspension and the pending return of star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. could make the Braves’ lineup deeper than it was during the championship run.
9. Freeman left the Braves in free agency for the Dodgers, and Kenley Jansen -- L.A.’s all-time saves leader -- left the Dodgers in free agency for the Braves. That’s, um, going to take some getting used to.
10. Oh, and remember when Craig Kimbrel was the Braves’ all-time saves leader? Now, he’s on the Dodgers, too, after the White Sox traded him for outfielder AJ Pollock.
11. The Dodgers, who brought back Clayton Kershaw and Chris Taylor and signed Andrew Heaney, Tyler Anderson and Daniel Hudson, might have had a successful offseason, despite losing shortstop Corey Seager to the Rangers in the seventh-highest total value contract of all time (10 years, $325 million) and Max Scherzer to the Mets in the highest average annual value contract of all time (three years, $130 million).
12. Yeah, in case you couldn’t tell, the Rangers and Mets splurged, committing a combined sum north of $800 million to free agents.
13. In addition to Seager, the Rangers signed second baseman Marcus Semien, an AL MVP finalist in two of the last three seasons, and starter Jon Gray. The Seager/Semien commitments alone totaled half a billion dollars.
14. The Mets added outfielders Starling Marte and Mark Canha and superutility guy Eduardo Escobar and traded for starter Chris Bassitt, whose presence is all the more important now in the wake of an injury to Jacob deGrom.
15. There were plenty of other big spenders: The Rockies shockingly landed Kris Bryant for their outfield, just 13 months after trading franchise face Nolan Arenado.
16. The Tigers added shortstop Javier Báez and starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Pineda and traded for outfielder Austin Meadows from the Rays.
17. The Phillies splurged on outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber for what figures to be a potent lineup around reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.
18. Maybe the most shocking move of all was star shortstop Carlos Correa’s three-year deal with the Twins, who are intent on climbing out of the AL Central cellar. Correa can opt out as soon as this winter, so he might head right back into the open market.
19. The Twins were also busy flipping shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (briefly acquired from the Rangers for catcher Mitch Garver) and third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Yankees for catcher Gary Sánchez and infielder Gio Urshela.
20. So it’s Kiner-Falefa taking over shortstop in the Bronx and not one of the main figures of the greatest free-agent shortstop class of all time. The Yankees also brought back first baseman Anthony Rizzo and traded Luke Voit to the Padres.
21. As for the shortstop class, the last domino from that group fell when Trevor Story signed with the Red Sox, for whom he’ll slide over to second base out of deference to Xander Bogaerts.
22. Two teams notably subtracted. The A’s blew it up, not only trading away Olson to the Braves and Bassitt to the Mets but also All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman to the Blue Jays and starter Sean Manaea to the Padres.
23. The Reds also had a fire sale, shipping outfielder Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suárez to the Mariners, starter Sonny Gray to the Twins and catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers.
24. One offshoot of those deals is that the Mariners, who had previously landed reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray in free agency, beefed up their burgeoning lineup with Winker and Suárez. Those moves give an M’s team that surprisingly won 90 games last year a real shot of ending the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports.
25. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays, who effectively replaced the departing Ray by signing starter Kevin Gausman, found a strong lineup and infield replacement for the departed Semien by adding Chapman, a three-time Gold Glove and two-time Platinum Glove winner. The AL East is absolutely stacked.
26. In terms of sentimental value, no move tops Albert Pujols’ return to the Cardinals. The mid-spring signing reunited Pujols with Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright for one last ride in St. Louis.
27. Oh, and Cleveland didn’t make any big personnel changes. But don’t forget: They’re the Guardians now. And with the 81-foot-wide, 28-foot-high sign hanging above their scoreboard, you could say they literally added the biggest name of all.
28. Whoa, that’s a lot to unpack. Sorry to spring all of that on you at once. But honestly, we only scratched the surface. For a full rundown and analysis of all the notable deals that went down, head here.
Those aren’t the only changes. There are also…
29. By far the biggest rule change is the resolution of an argument that has spanned generations. Yes, the designated hitter is finally, officially (some would say mercifully) in both leagues. Our long national nightmare of watching pitchers perform feebly at the plate – albeit with the occasional Bartolo Colon dinger sprinkled in -- is behind us.
30. But wait, you say, what about Shohei Ohtani? Don’t worry, he’ll still hit. In fact, much like Ricky Williams’ dreadlocks caused the NFL to rule that hair is an extension of the uniform, MLB has tweaked its rules because of a single player. On days he starts for the Angels, Ohtani can leave the mound as a pitcher and yet remain in the lineup as a DH.
31. The automatic runner at second base in extra innings is back … and please don’t call it a “ghost runner,” as they are real people with real feelings.
32. But seven-inning doubleheaders are now officially a part of our pandemic-altered past. All those makeup doubleheader games will be nine-inning affairs.
33. The only other rule change is that rosters are expanded from 26 to 28 players until May 2, due to the shortened Spring Training coming out of the lockout. Rosters will be expanded again to 28 in September. During the 26-player period, teams may not carry more than 13 pitchers.
34. You should also be aware of PitchCom. It’s a device catchers can wear on their forearm to send signals to the pitcher, who wears a receiver in his cap, in lieu of the traditional finger-wagging. The system is aimed at preventing sign-stealing and speeding up the pace of play. After a Spring Training trial, it has been approved for use in the 2022 season.
35. During the CBA negotiation period, you probably heard about other potential rule changes that were broached, including the automatic ball-strike system (aka “robot umps”), the pitch clock, limits on defensive shifts, bigger bases, etc. MLB will continue to experiment with those and other ideas at the Minor League level this year, and any of them could be considered for use in the big leagues as soon as 2023.
Amid the on-field adjustments prompted by progress, there are some roster adjustments prompted by spring aches and pains …
Injuries of note
36. We’ll have to wait a while to see that prominent pairing of Scherzer and deGrom. Though Scherzer’s late-camp hamstring issue is not considered a big deal, deGrom’s stress reaction in his shoulder will prevent him from throwing for at least another few weeks, meaning he’s not expected to rejoin the Mets’ rotation before June.
37. The Fernando Tatis Jr. Show has also been put on pause. Tatis fractured his left wrist in the offseason and is expected to miss about three months.
38. Chris Sale is out of the Boston rotation for at least two months because of a stress fracture in his rib cage. The Red Sox pushed themselves back into the postseason picture without Sale in the first half of 2021 and will have to absorb the absence of their ace again.
39. The defending AL Central champion White Sox will have to account for the early season absence of starter Lance Lynn, who had knee surgery, and the full season absence of reliever Garrett Crochet, who had Tommy John surgery.
40. The Cardinals are similarly compromised in their pitching staff as ace Jack Flaherty and reliever Alex Reyes are both nursing labrum tears.
41. A Reds roster already raided by trades is also entering the season without ace Luis Castillo, who is nursing a shoulder injury. He could be back before the end of April, and the trade rumors are sure to follow.
42. The 107-win Giants must move forward without Buster Posey (retirement), without Bryant (left for Colorado in free agency) and, temporarily, without Evan Longoria, who will miss approximately six weeks following finger surgery.
43. OK, that’s a lot of injury bummers. But we can counter it with some good news: Mike Trout is back from last year’s nagging calf injuries and ready to challenge his teammate Ohtani for the MVP. You’re welcome, world.
Of course, sometimes when stars go down, kids rise to the occasion. With that in mind, here are some …
Top prospects to watch
44. Get ready for what could be one of the great Rookie of the Year races ever. The AL’s freshman class looks loaded, with three of the top four guys on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list – Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 1), Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez (No. 3) and Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson (No. 4) all breaking camp with the big league clubs. It might have been a perfect five-for-five, except that Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman (No. 2) and Tigers outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5) were both injured this spring.
45. The AL field is further deepened by the Angels awarding a rotation job to Reid Detmers (No. 21), the Rays’ promotion of outfielder Josh Lowe (No. 50) immediately after their trade of Meadows, and the Twins giving their Opening Day nod to Joe Ryan (No. 97).
46. In the NL, the aforementioned injury to Tatis could open the door for C.J. Abrams (No. 9) to debut for the Padres, who could also carry pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore (No. 86). (The Padres’ roster was not set, as of this writing.) The Reds have granted an Opening Day roster spot to electric starter Hunter Greene (No. 22), the Giants have handed Buster Posey’s catching duties off to Joey Bart (No. 31) and the Phillies have rostered shortstop Bryson Stott (No. 45).
47. That’s merely a taste of the opening outlook. But as usual, young talent will have an immense impact as this season rolls along, and you’re bound to hear a lot about the likes of Grayson Rodriguez (Orioles), Alek Thomas (D-backs), Oneil Cruz (Pirates), Nolan Gorman (Cardinals), Edward Cabrera (Marlins) and many, many others.
Lastly, let’s tie up some …
Other loose ends
48. The CBA set the minimum salary at $700,000, up from $570,200 last season.
49. Teams that promote a prospect to the Opening Day roster and keep him up for a full season will be eligible to receive up to three Draft picks if that player finishes in the top three in his league’s Rookie of the Year voting or top five in the MVP or Cy Young voting before he is eligible for arbitration.
50. The team with the worst record will no longer be guaranteed the top pick in next year’s Draft. Rather, the first six picks of the 2023 MLB Draft will be decided by a lottery featuring all 18 non-postseason clubs. You can read more about that here.
OK, you got all that? Are you ready? Great. Let’s play ball!