By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – The text message from a Cardinals player arrived Thursday afternoon, expressing his personal sentiment but also the opinion of everyone involved in baseball.
“Finally. Let’s play some baseball,” the message read.
On the 99th day of the major-league lockout, the owners and players union reached a deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, ending the second longest work stoppage in baseball history.
The union accepted the latest proposal from the owners, despite the fact the executive board voted 8-0 against it. The vote by the 30 player reps was 26-4 in favor of accepting the deal, according to multiple media reports. The Cardinals reportedly were one of the four teams voting no. The vote by the owners was unanimous in ratifying the agreement.
In a zoom press conference, John Mozeliak, team president of baseball operations, said his first order of business after the lockout was lifted was sending text messages to the Cardinals players. His message was simple, “Welcome back. Can’t wait to see you.”
Many details about the return of the game were still being finalized on Thursday night, but here is a summary of what is known:
Players can begin reporting to camps as early as Friday, with a mandatory report date of Sunday except for international players with visa issues. Many of the players on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster already have been in Jupiter, working out at a private facility. The team’s first workout is planned for Monday, after physicals completed.
Mozeliak said he did expect some players to show up on Friday and said they can do “anything they like. In the past, historically, if players came down before camp officially opened we would allow for them to use the facility in any way they wanted – the weight room, going to hit, thrown bullpen, take grounders. We are a bit short-staffed because a lot of the major-league coaches aren’t here.”
Players who have been in the minor-league camp but who were expected to be in the major-league camp on non-roster invitations will join that camp on Monday, Mozeliak said.
Spring training games, with a rewritten schedule, are expected to begin March 17 or 18. The Cardinals are hoping to release the new schedule on Friday once it has been approved. The games likely will run until about April 4 or 5. It is expected the schedule will have one off day, for a workout day, and four games every five days.
The regular season will begin on April 7, with the Cardinals hosting the Pirates at Busch Stadium. A full 162-game season will be played, with the games between the original starting date of March 31-April 6 to be made up by adding three days to the schedule at the end of the season and by playing doubleheaders during the season.
Doubleheaders will be nine innings, and the ghost runners in extra innings have been eliminated.
The National League will have a designated hitter.
The major-league portion of the Rule 5 draft, which was postponed during the lockout, was canceled for this season. This will allow the Cardinals to retain some prospects they might have lost to other teams, including shortstop Delvin Perez and first baseman Luken Baker.
Free agent and trade discussions could begin on Thursday night, following the formal vote by the owners to ratify the new agreement. The Cardinals are believed to have interest in adding another relief pitcher and perhaps a left-handed bat for the bench but are not expected to pursue any of the remaining top-tier free agents. They currently have four open spots on their 40-man roster.
“I have touched base with a few agents tonight and my response is like, ‘Let’s take a deep breath, circle the wagons and I will be touch with people on a more formal type of conversations in the morning,” Mozeliak said.
“Our thought process for all that is fairly well-baked,” he said about the free agent market. “We have a pretty good understanding of what we want to do. We’ll see if we will be able to accomplish that in the next few days.”
A decision has not been made about whether teams will be allowed to expand their roster for the start of the season because of the shortened spring, Mozeliak said.
The postseason will consist of 12 teams.
The date to exchange figures for arbitration-eligible players will be March 22, with the hearings if necessary occurring during the regular season. The Cardinals have seven players eligible for arbitration – Harrison Bader, Jack Flaherty, Giovanny Gallegos, Jordan Hicks, Dakota Hudson, Tyler O’Neill and Alex Reyes.
“It’s time to get to work,” said a text from another player, “which I’m excited about.”
Mozeliak had the same opinion.
“We can look back and say what we wished would have happened, why didn’t we start this earlier, why couldn’t we have gotten it done earlier but I’m sure those are details that some of us will never know the answer to,” Mozeliak said. “But what we do know is we’re back.
“We go into this camp with high expectations and it’s going to be great just to see the players back here and have conversations with them … I’m certainly looking forward to Monday.”
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For those Cardinals fans who will be in the Jupiter area on Tuesday March 15, Rob Rains and STLSportsPage.com will be hosting a Cardinals Fans Barbecue and Happy Hour and everyone who follow Rob or subscribes to his newsletter is welcome to attend this free event, but you must RSVP to attend. For information or to RSVP email: STLSportsPage@gmail.com