Entering the weekend, owners were sticking to their Monday deadline for an agreement on a new labor deal for the regular season to start as planned on March 31.
From what the owners also have said — for emphasis and/or bargaining leverage — the season will be shortened from the standard 162 games if a deal isn’t reached by that deadline. That means there are no contingencies in place to make up the missed games and definitely no plans to pay players their full salaries (though missed pay and service time could be negotiated as part of an eventual agreement).
Whichever side you blame, owners or players, the impact of a shortened season for the second time in three years will be real. Here are some of the ways it could affect the Rays, with the length of the delay obviously the key unknown.
With MLB saying schedules won’t be re-drawn (due to logistics, such as non-baseball events booked at stadiums), division races will be different as teams won’t play the same number of intra-division and, at least for some, interleague games.
If just the first week is wiped out, the Rays could catch a break, skipping road series at two tough AL East foes, Boston and Toronto. If all of April is lost, it appears more like a wash. The Rays would lose series against four teams that — based on pre-lockout plans — look like contenders (at Red Sox, Blue Jays and White Sox; vs. Mariners) and four that don’t (Orioles, A’s, Twins; at Cubs). May has a 10-game West Coast trip but an easier overall slate.
(Related: If the season is shortened, players say they won’t approve expanding the playoffs field this year, which lessens the chances for the Rays to reach the postseason.)
No games mean no sales of tickets, parking, concessions or in-stadium merchandise, and refunds/credits for what was already purchased. Also requiring adjustments, and potentially credits/refunds, are fees paid by sponsors, in-stadium advertisers and radio/TV rightsholders. Some arrangements can be re-worked on paper but, for example, if the Rays don’t provide Sinclair a minimum number of games to televise (typically 140-150), they would have to make good financially for the lost inventory. Given their limited revenues, every loss could hurt.
Hold your jokes, because we’ve heard them all, but losing the first month could hurt the Rays at the Tropicana Field gate. The home opener is slated for April 8, which would turn an otherwise lonely Friday game against the Orioles into a sellout, and they’d lose their only weekend home series against the Red Sox (April 22-24).
The next big loss, if the lockout really dragged on, would be the May 26-29 weekend series against the Yankees. Besides those two AL East opponents, the other big draw would be the Cardinals, who make a June 7-9 visit. (On the other hand, the Rays-owned United Soccer League Rowdies will be in action starting March 19, with good seats available and an Arozarena — goalkeeper Raiko, brother of Rays outfielder Randy — in action.)
Want more than just the box score?
Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
With one of the lower payrolls in the league, the Rays won’t “save” as much as most teams, though the percentage may be similar since they also have lower revenue. For some players, missed pay is obviously a bigger deal than others. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the top-paid Ray for 2022 at $12 million, makes roughly $74,000 a game pre-tax. A player making the owners-proposed $640,000 major-league minimum gets about $3,950 per game.
Coming off a 100-win season, two straight AL East titles and three consecutive playoff berths (and a crushing 2021 first-round loss), the Rays are eager to get back on the field, so any delay is frustrating. Also lost could the drive and push they were hoping to build in the community for a new stadium in Tampa or St. Petersburg following the league-ordered end to their plan to split future seasons in Montreal.
There is a chance, of course, that owners and players bridge the large gaps and come to an agreement by Monday, spring camps open by the end of the week and the season starts on time. Or that they walk away mad Monday, one side reaches out a few days later and a deal is made quickly enough for the full season to be played.
The Rays were to start their exhibition schedule Saturday in Bradenton (for starters, Tommy Romero?) and play their spring home opener Sunday against the Orioles, but games have been canceled through at least March 7. Minor-league camp does open this week. ... Eight Rays prospects made fangraphs.com’s top 114: Shane Baz, 11; Josh Lowe, 45; Curtis Mead, 48; Vidal Brujan, 55; Greg Jones, 77; Seth Johnson, 96; Xavier Edwards, 110; Heriberto Hernandez, 112. … Agent Joel Wolfe said Tyler Glasnow has started throwing and is doing well in his recovery from Tommy John hybrid surgery. … Per The Athletic, Sinclair will soft-launch its live game-streaming app for Rays games early in the season, as well as for the Brewers, Marlins, Royals and Tigers. That sounds ambitious. … ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel’s initial 2022 draft rankings have outfielder Justin Crawford, son of former Tampa Bay standout Carl, ranked 27th, intriguingly close to where the Rays pick (29th). ... In a union-produced video highlighting offseason player workouts, Twins outfielder Brent Rooker joked that Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe was putting on a show for the cameras at their Nashville-area facility since he normally sits, “sips a small batch coffee and runs us through the 39 home runs he hit last year, like four times a week.’' ... Though spring training has been on hold, New Era is selling spring caps for $35.99 and $43.99. … Also still planned is the spring training-themed March 19-20 Innings Festival on the Raymond James Stadium grounds in Tampa, headlined by Green Day and the Lumineers and including appearances by former players such as Ozzie Smith, Andruw Jones, Brian Jordan and Tampa locals Lou Piniella, Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield and Tino Martinez.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.