Boston Red Sox

Fans of the Boston Red Sox celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in game five of the American League Championship Series during the 2008 MLB playoffs at Fenway Park on October 16, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox defeated the Rays 8-7 to set the series at 3-2 Rays. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

After months of tense negotiations and anxiety across the baseball world, Major League Baseball and the players union are expected to agree to a new labor deal for 2022 and beyond.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday that the two sides have reached a “tentative agreement,” and it’s “expected to be a formality” that both parties will ratify the new CBA. So, while it’s technically not 100 percent totally officially official just yet, Passan was confident enough to conclude: “baseball is back.”

Jon Heyman also reported that the players voted 26-12 in favor and the deal “is agreed to” for 2022. It sure appears that nothing will stand in the way of baseball’s return.

Passan later added that players can report for spring training as soon as Friday, and that free agency and trades may resume once the deal is ratified. According to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, opening day is expected to be April 7.

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MLB takes big step toward actually improving on-field product

  • MLB games are poised to look dramatically different in 2023, based on the rules that the players union has agreed to allow clubs to implement. Here are the three big rule changes to know about on the baseball diamond.

    Pitch Clock

    Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox looks on in between batters during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox looks on in between batters during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    According to Jesse Rogers at ESPN.com, MLB plans to institute a 14-second pitch clock with the bases empty and 19 seconds with runners on base. Recent experiments in the minor leagues helped baseball ultimately land on the two numbers.

    According to Baseball Prospectus data provided to The Ringer, 82 percent of major league pitchers averaged 15 seconds or fewer between pitches with the bases empty, while only 15 percent of pitchers averaged 17 seconds or fewer with runners on base. The pitch clock did prove successful in the Low-A West League, where the average game length dropped by 21 minutes.

    That makes the pitch clock an obvious choice for a change that will shorten the overall length of games and improve pacing, especially if batters continue to walk and strike out at the rate they have in recent years.

  • No Defensive Shifts

    Cole Irvin #19 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against Joey Gallo #13 of the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning at Globe Life Field on July 9, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    Cole Irvin #19 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against Joey Gallo #13 of the Texas Rangers during the fourth inning at Globe Life Field on July 9, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

    It’s unclear what this rule change will look like and how it will be enforced. But you can presume that teams simply won’t be allowed to overload the right side of the infield to induce pull hitters into easy ground balls. It’s possible that infielders won’t be able to line up in the outfield, which is a hallmark of the shift.

    While obviously effective, defensive shifts have only served to make games less exciting, forcing power hitters to try bunting or slapping the ball to the opposite field. Banning the shift is akin to offside rules in every other major sport. You can’t cross the line too early in football or hockey, and in basketball you can’t spend too much time in the paint. It’s the same principle.

    The change will certainly lead to more ground balls sneaking through the infield, while more base hits will land safely in right field without a second baseman there to gobble them up. But it’s still more important to up the pace between pitches and at-bats, which is why the pitch clock is still the most impactful change.

  • Bigger Bases

    Ozzie Albies #1 of the Atlanta Braves steals second base as Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers fields the throw during the 5th inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Ozzie Albies #1 of the Atlanta Braves steals second base as Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers fields the throw during the 5th inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    The idea here is to give runners less distance to cover when attempting to steal bases or reach safely. Steals are often among the most exciting plays in the sport, so more of them in the mix with all the walks and strikeouts should improve the overall entertainment value.

    Despite this and the other rule changes, baseball fans still have to wait another year before they actually happen. But it’s still a huge development for the game itself that players and the league are agreeing to evolve. The only downside here is that George Carlin’s old “baseball & football” bit becomes a little more dated (“We don’t know when it’s gonna end! We might have EXTRA innings!”).

    Baseball has really been testing fans’ patience in recent years. Finally, it looks like they’ll be rewarded.

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4 Red Sox prospects named to Baseball America's top 100 list

  • SS Marcelo Mayer (15th)

    Heading into the 2021 MLB Draft, Mayer was viewed by many as the top overall prospect in the class. Yet Mayer fell to the Red Sox at fourth overall, and was considered the steal of the draft.

    The 18-year-old then joined the Red Sox’s Florida Complex League team and instantly looked the part. He slashed .275/.377/.440 with 17 RBIs in 26 games.

    Given he was drafted out of high school, Mayer’s major league ETA isn’t projected to be until late in the 2024 season at the earliest. Still, the early progress is a strong indication that he’s on his way to justifying the lofty pre-draft projections, and this ranking reflects that.

  • 1B Triston Casas (19th overall)

    WORCESTER – Triston Casas steps up to the plate during the final home game of the inaugural season at Polar Park on Sunday, September 26, 2021. (Ashley Green/Telegram & Gazette via Imagn Content Services)

    This time last year Casas was ranked 47th by Baseball America, while at the same time being the Red Sox’s highest-ranked prospect on the list. Both he and the team have come a long way in terms of development in the last 12 months.

    Casas, a first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2018, spent the majority of the 2021 season in Double-AA Portland. He slashed .284/.395/.484 with the Sea Dogs in 77 games, hitting 12 doubles and 13 home runs with 52 RBIs. The lefty also spent part of the summer with Team USA at the Olympics, winning a silver medal.

    Now 22, with three years of minor league baseball under his belt, there’s a strong chance Casas makes his major league debut this upcoming season (assuming there is a season). Given the relative uncertainty the team has faced at first base, the door is wide open for him to grab an everyday spot in the lineup at some point this year.

  • 2B Nick Yorke (31st overall)

    Yorke had one of the biggest jumps of any prospect on this year’s list, moving up from the 63rd ranking this time last year. This comes just over a year after he was viewed as ‘over-drafted’ when the Red Sox took him 17th overall in the 2020 draft.

    In his first year of professional league baseball in 2021, Yorke was named the organization’s Minor League Offensive Player of the Year. In 97 games split between Single-A Salem and High-A Greenville, the 19 year old slashed an impressive .325/.412/.516. His 123 hits were the most by any Red Sox minor leaguer that season.

    Also drafted out of high school, York isn’t expected in the major leagues for at least a few more years. At the same time, he’s a name to know if he develops and builds off an impressive first season.

  • OF Jarren Duran (91st overall)

    Jul 17, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jarren Duran (40) follows through on a single against the New York Yankees during the second inning at Yankee Stadium. The hit was the first of his MLB career in his first ever plate appearance. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Red Sox fans got to see a bit of Duran last year. The 2018 seventh-round pick made his major league debut in July, and hit .215 in 33 games.

    Despite his initial struggles in the big leagues, it appears Baseball America isn’t ready to write Durran off – and neither should the Red Sox. He possesses a rare combination of speed and power that could make him a chess piece sort of player down the road.

    His biggest issue right now is his approach at the plate. He struck out 40 times compared to just four walks in his short major league stint, but the Red Sox have been able to work through similar problems with other players in the past.

    Currently, Duran is one of just four outfielders on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster with major league experience (not including J.D. Martinez). He’ll have a chance to make the initial roster out of Spring Training, and even if he doesn’t, expect to see him in the majors at some point in 2022.

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Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.