MLB Lockout Throws Twins Spring Training a Wild Pitch
The Twins hold spring training games at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Meyers, Florida. MLB.com

MLB Lockout Throws Twins Spring Training a Wild Pitch

Minor leaguers will be the major attraction until player contract is settled.

Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it will present spring training as scheduled, but without major league players. Twins pitchers were to report to Fort Myers, Florida, early next week for workouts, with the team’s first spring training game scheduled 10 days later on Feb. 25. That would have been followed by the regular season on March 31, with the home opener a week after that.

Now, Twins minor leaguers will report Feb. 21 and take the place of major leaguers until their contract stalemate is settled, which Commissioner Rob Manfred hoped would happen by end of month. MLB insists it does not plan to present spring training games without major league players, but no contingency plan has been revealed.

MLB players have been without a contract since Dec. 2, and on that day management locked them out of team facilities. The practical impacts were minimal during baseball’s 105-day off-season, but after a slow-paced and unproductive start to negotiations—which did not begin in earnest until January—it became clear the eight-plus-month MLB season would not emerge unscathed.

The economics of spring training are more compelling for the Florida and Arizona cities that host it than for teams, say insiders, but the Twins do share in the revenue of 17 home games at their complex in Ft. Myers. Each team has a different relationship with its spring training host, but all teams have contractual obligations to present spring training and a certain number of games. Teams have been selling spring training tickets for weeks.

The last normal spring training MLB presented was in 2019. It was halted mid-season by the Covid pandemic in 2020, and last year’s was presented with attendance limits. Players do not receive salaries until regular season games begin, so their financial interest begins March 31.

“From an income and profitability standpoint, spring training is a big business,” says Scott Carter, executive vice president of Phoenix-based SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, who used to manage spring training for the Dodgers and White Sox. “But it’s nothing compared to a single weekend of regular season play.” He suggests teams like the Twins, whose home market is deep in winter at mid-February, have a stronger tradition of fan travel and attendance than many sunbelt teams, and from a marketing and fan interest standpoint, the six weeks are disproportionately valuable to northern teams.

Manfred, speaking at the conclusion of owners’ meetings in Orlando, said the league was preparing a major offer to players to be delivered Saturday, on what would have been the final weekend of their off-season. Major league spring training cannot be completely abandoned, because players, especially pitchers, need to prepare their bodies for the six-month regular season. But since the MLB playoffs extend to early November, the economics of the game will favor a loss of spring training games over regular season or playoff games.

Twins President Dave St. Peter declined to comment on the developing situation, noting the league was reserving all comment on the lockout and its impacts.

It became clear several weeks ago that the minor leagues would have an abnormally prominent role in spring training when minor league players were asked to report earlier than normal. Their season, including that of the St. Paul Saints, is unaffected by the major league lockout. Not all the Twins rookies will be there, though. The team’s most promising young talent is carried on the major league roster and are ineligible to report until the basic agreement is settled.

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