Locked in: MLB set for delayed openers after a long winter

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

It’ll end up being 157 days between the moment Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves won last year’s World Series and the start of the 2022 baseball season. Everything in between? Tough to sum that up quickly.

A record spending spree on free agents. A bitter work stoppage that delayed Opening Day.

Maybe most unthinkable of all: Freeman isn’t even in Atlanta anymore.

A lot to catch up on before the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers open the season at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, the first of seven games that day. Certainly, the sport is ready to move forward and wash off a winter when owners and players fought – fiercely and occasionally publicly – over how to split the game’s billions.

Luckily, the legal work is now moved to the side, and the real fun can begin.

What can Shohei Ohtani possibly do for an encore after an unprecedented year of dominance on the mound and at the plate? Will the many millions spent by Mets owner Steve Cohen bring a championship trophy to Queens? Can anyone stop the Dodgers after they lured Freeman back to his Southern California home?

Time to find out.

Before the first pitch is delivered Thursday, here’s what to know:


Baseball’s unusual offseason was split into two segments – a flurry of action before the 99-day lockout began Dec. 2, and a scramble to get rosters set when it lifted March 10.

The Rangers were champions of Part 1. Texas signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for a combined $500 million, solidifying their middle infield with two monster contracts.

Those deals were part of a one-day record $1.4 billion spent on free agents right before the offseason went dark. Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray left Toronto for Seattle, and the Blue Jays replaced him with former Giant Kevin Gausman. The Tigers ponied up for shortstop Javier Baez and starter Eduardo Rodriguez. Even the Marlins tried making a splash, dropping $53 million on Avisail Garcia.

Max Scherzer also signed early, joining Cohen and the Mets on a $130 million, three-year deal. He then turned his attention to baseball’s labor fight, where he was one of the lead voices for players at the table. He’s back to his day job now – and good thing for New York, with two-time Cy Young Award-winning teammate Jacob deGrom beginning the year on the injured list.

When shops re-opened in March, the most notable drama surrounded Freeman and the Braves. Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos appeared to end any hopes for a reunion when he traded for Oakland slugger Matt Olson and gave him a $168 million, eight-year deal.

Freeman landed with the Dodgers for $162 million over six years, then acknowledged during his introductory press conference that he always figured on being a lifelong Brave.

The Minnesota Twins made another huge post-lockout deal, convincing former Astros shortstop Carlos Correa to sign a $105.3 million, three-year deal with player opt outs after the first two seasons. His stay might be short, but Correa has pledged to help instill a “championship culture” in the Twin Cities, where the ball club has lost 18 straight postseason games dating to 2004.

Other notable moves: Clayton Kershaw went back to the Dodgers, the rival Giants locked up lefty Carlos Rodon, and the Rockies signed Kris Bryant.

Also new in the NL West is San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin, who was granted his release by Oakland after 11 years to lead Fernando Tatis Jr. and Co.

Melvin’s old job went to Mark Kotsay, getting his first crack at managing after a 17-year playing career. The Cardinals are under new direction, too, promoting 35-year-old Oliver Marmol after Mike Shildt was stunningly fired despite being a finalist for NL Manager of the Year.


Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement brought with it several changes that fans will notice quickly. Most notably, the designated hitter has been adopted by the National League full-time.

The postseason field was expanded to 12 teams from 10, with the top two teams in each league getting first-round byes and a best-of-three wild-card round replacing the old one-game playoffs.

The “zombie” runner is back for extra innings for one more season amid concerns over player health with the season condensed to fit in 162 games. The rule automatically places a runner at second base for each team to begin each inning after the ninth.

One that fans may like: umpires will now be given microphones and asked to explain rulings after replay reviews.

One they might not like: the league now has the right to place advertising patches on team uniforms, thought the earlest they would appear is the postseason.


Cleveland is unveiling a new team name and logos this season, transforming into the Guardians after years of acrimony of their former name, which many considered offensive. They’ll play their first official game as the Guardians on Thursday, when Shane Bieber likely toes the mound at Kansas City. They play their first home game April 15 against San Francisco.


Seiya Suzuki, Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez headline an exciting class of rookies set to debut on Opening Day.

Suzuki, a 27-year-old Japanese star, will take his first crack at U.S. baseball with the Chicago Cubs after signing an $85 million, five-year deal. The outfielder has power, speed and has even shown off some personality despite the language barrier, learning to say “Mike Trout, I love you” at his news conference.

Witt is the game’s top prospect and will start at third base for the Royals. He could be a five-tool talent with exceptional power. Rodriguez, with Seattle, ranks just behind Witt on the national radar and could be the key to ending the Mariners’ 20-year postseason drought.

Another name to know: Reds starter Hunter Greene, who reached 104 mph at Triple-A last year.


The Cardinals are reuniting Albert Pujols with Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright for what could be a special goodbye for the trio that won the 2006 World Series together for St. Louis. Molina has already said it will be his final season and Wainwright hinted he’s likely done after 2022, too.

The 42-year-old Pujols is also likely to retire after playing out a $2.5 million, one-year deal.

Anthony Volpe, 21, wins Yankees’ starting shortstop job

Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sp

TAMPA, Fla. — Anthony Volpe grew up watching Derek Jeter star at shortstop for the New York Yankees.

Now, the 21-year-old is getting the chance to be the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop against the San Francisco Giants.

The team announced after a 6-2 win over Toronto in spring training that Volpe had won the spot. New York manager Aaron Boone called the kid into his office to deliver the news.

“My heart was beating pretty hard,” said Volpe, rated one of baseball’s best prospects. “Incredible. I’m just so excited. It’s hard for me to even put into words.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, hitting coach Dillon Lawson and bench coach Carlos Mendoza were also present.

Volpe was able to share the news with his parents and other family members near the Yankees’ dugout and said it is something he will never forget.

“It was pretty emotional,” Volpe said. “It was just an unbelievable moment to share with them.”

Volpe, who grew up a Yankees fan, lived in Manhattan as a child before moving to New Jersey. Jeter was his favorite player.

“It’s very surreal,” Volpe said. “I’ve only ever been to games at Yankee Stadium and for the most part only watched him play there.”

Volpe is hitting .314 with three homers, five RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage in 17 Grapefruit League games. He has just 22 games of experience at Triple-A.

Spring training started with Volpe, Oswald Peraza and holdover Isiah Kiner-Falefa competing for the everyday shortstop job. Kiner-Falefa was shifted into a utility role midway through camp, and Peraza was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

“While certainly the performance was there, he killed it between the lines,” Boone said of Volpe. “All the other things that we’ve been hearing about showed up. There’s an energy he plays the game with, and an instinct that he has that is evident. He really checked every box that we could have had for him. Absolutely kicked the door in and earned his opportunity.”

Volpe arrived in Florida in December to work out at the Yankees’ minor league complex.

“He’s earned the right to take that spot, and we’re excited for him and excited for us,” Cashman said. “He just dominated all sides of the ball during February and March, and that bodes well obviously for him as we move forward.”

Volpe was selected out of high school with the 30th overall pick in the 2019 draft from Delbarton School in New Jersey. He passed up a college commitment to Vanderbilt to sign with the Yankees.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get into the organization,” Volpe said. “This day, this feeling, this moment was kind of what I’ve worked my whole life for when I made that big decision.”

“Right now it’s crazy,” he added. “I don’t even know what lies ahead but Thursday I just want to go out and play, and have fun.”