LAKELAND, Fla. — Over the past 99 days, dozens of great Detroit players have been unable to use team facilities, interact with coaches or have any other affiliation with the Old English D.
Now they are all heading to Tiger Town.
The agreement reached Thursday night by Major League Baseball and its players’ union means that everything will happen very quickly.
Players should report to spring training by Sunday and prepare for a condensed regular-season build. Many will start arriving as early as Friday.
Much of the spring exhibition schedule has already been wiped out due to the lockdown, so the Tigers and other teams will likely juggle their remaining spring exhibition schedules to play more games against neighboring clubs. The Tigers are tentatively — very tentatively — set to open the Grapefruit League on March 18. The newly revised schedule will likely include more games against the Yankees (Tampa), Blue Jays (Dunedin) and Phillies (Clearwater).
The Tigers will open the 2022 regular season at home on April 8 against the Chicago White Sox.
Free agency is also back from 7 p.m. Thursday. When a trading freeze was declared on Dec. 1, there were still dozens and dozens of viable free agents on the market. There will be a signing rush over the next few days and likely some bargains if the Tigers choose to shop around.
Here are a few other things to know about the new deal and what to expect between now and opening day:
* Although MLB officially canceled a second week of games in April when it looked like there would be no deal on Wednesday, they weren’t canceled less than 24 hours later. That means the Tigers only need to make up seven games to play a full 162-game schedule. Three in Seattle against the Mariners and four in Oakland against the Athletics were wiped out due to the lockout.
MLB plans to make up for missed games by using doubleheaders and extending the regular season by three games through October. The problem for the Tigers is that their early-season trips to Seattle and Oakland were their only planned trips to those cities in 2022. So the Tigers will have to get creative in coming up with those games and it will be interesting to see what their new calendar looks like.
* Speaking of doubleheaders, the two twin bill games will be nine innings in 2022. (They had been seven innings each in the past two COVID-impacted seasons). Another COVID-era rule, putting a runner on second base in extra innings, was also thrown out the window.
* The other big on-field rule change is that the National League will now use the designated hitter.
Going forward, MLB now has the right to make rule changes after 45 days’ notice, but with consultation with players and umpires. That means next season – but not this one – we’ll likely see MLB ban field switching, increase base sizes, and institute a pitch clock as a way to improve the pace and quality of play.
* There will be 12 teams in the playoffs in 2022, up from 10 previously. Three division winners and three wild cards will qualify in each league.
Here’s the format: The two division winners with the best record will receive byes. The other four teams will be seeded and will play a best-of-three series. The highest seed will host all three matches.
In the next round – the Division series – there will be no reseeding. The No. 1 seed will face the 4-5 series winner and the No. 2 seed will face the 3-6 match winner.
The league also declared that there would be no more tiebreaker games (game 163) after the conclusion of the regular system. Ties will be broken just like in the NFL, with a long list of potential deciding factors.
* The Rule 5 draft has been canceled, meaning there will be no Cinderella story as Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo. The Rule 5 draft allows teams to select unprotected players in other organizations’ minor league system. The Tigers snatched Baddoo from the Minnesota Twins, who paid big dividends in 2021.
* The Tigers no longer tank, which is good because the new collective agreement will include anti-tank measures. The most important is a lottery project. The 18 non-playoff teams will enter a lottery for the top six draft picks. the three teams with the worst record always have the best chance of getting a high pickbut it is no longer strictly based on win-loss record.
* From a financial standpoint, the new minimum wage of $700,000 will provide a nice raise for the large number of young Tigers who have yet to reach arbitration. They will also be eligible to earn a slice of the $50 million pre-arbitration bonus pool.
For players like Michael Fulmer, Jeimer Candelario and several others eligible for arbitration, the next few weeks could be stressful. Since the arbitration process has been suspended during the lockout, teams and players will exchange their financial figures by March 25. If they cannot agree on a salary, arbitration hearings will take place during the season.
For veterans like Miguel Cabrera, resolving the lockout was also financially rewarding. He was expected to lose $172,043 a day if the games were permanently called off. Now he will have the chance to earn his full salary of $32 million in 2022.