NEW YORK — There were 157 days between the time Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves won the World Series last year and the opening of the 2022 season. In between? Better take a deep breath before reciting everything that happened.
A record amount of money spent on free agents. A harsh labor conflict that delayed the opening day.
Perhaps most unthinkable of all: Freeman isn’t even in Atlanta anymore.
Plenty to catch up on before the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers lift the curtain on the season at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, the first of seven games that day.
Certainly, the sport wants to turn the page after a winter in which owners and players waged a fierce battle over how to divvy up the billions of dollars that professional baseball generates.
Luckily, all the legal issue has been left aside, and the purest fun begins.
What else can Shohei Ohtani do after an unprecedented year of dominance on the mound and at the plate? Will Mets owner Steve Cohen’s millions of dollars be enough to win a championship in Queens? Will anyone be able to tame the Dodgers after acquiring Freeman?
The time has come to find out.
Ahead of the first launch on Thursday, here’s what you need to know:
The unusual winter break split firm activity into two segments, with a first wave of acquisitions ahead of the 99-day lockout that began Dec. 1, followed by a rush to round out rosters when the ban was lifted Dec. 10. of March.
The Rangers were the big winners in the first half. Texas signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for a combined $500 million, solidifying the middle of their infield.
Those deals were part of a day that saw a record $1.4 billion in free agents committed just before the stoppage.
Cy Young winner Robbie Ray left Toronto for Seattle and the Blue Jays replaced him with the Giants’ Kevin Gausman. The Tigers added Puerto Rican shortstop Javier Báez and Venezuelan starter Eduardo Rodríguez. Even the Marlins got into the dance, paying 53 million for the Venezuelan Avisal García.
Veteran ace Max Scherzer also signed early, joining Cohen and the Mets on a three-year, $130 million deal. Subsequently, he turned his attention to the job battle as one of the main voices of the players. He’s now back at his day job — a good thing for New York since two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom will start the year on the disabled list.
When the market reopened in March, attention turned to Freeman and the Braves. Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos dispelled any hope of reconciliation by acquiring Oakland slugger Matt Olson and signing him to an eight-year, $168 million deal.
Freeman finished with the Dodgers and signed for six years and 162 million. During the introductory news conference, the first baseman acknowledged that he always believed he would complete his career with the Braves.
The Minnesota Twins surprised with a shock signing after the lockout by acquiring former Astros shortstop Carlos Correa on a three-year, $105.3 million deal. His stay could be short, since the Puerto Rican will be able to get out of the contract in each of the first two seasons. But Correa promised to help create “a champion culture” for the Twins, who have lost 18 straight postseason games since 2004.
Other notable changes: Clayton Kershaw returned to the Dodgers, the Giants added left-hander Carlos Rodón and the Rockies signed Kris Bryant.
Another novelty in the National League West is that Bob Melvin is the new manager of the San Diego Padres, after 11 years in Oakland, to lead Fernando Tatis Jr. and company.
Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement brought with it several changes that fans will quickly notice. Most notably: The designated hitter will be adopted full-time by the National League.
They expanded the postseason from 10 to 12 teams and the top two teams in each league will get a bye week. A best-of-three wild card round will be held to replace the old one-game format.
Auto runners in extra innings will remain in place for one more season due to concerns over player health in a condensed 162-game season. The rule automatically places a player at second base for each team at the start of each inning after the ninth.
One change that fans might like: Umpires will have microphones and will have to explain decisions after reviewing video.
One change fans might not like: The league now has the right to put advertising patches on team uniforms.
Cleveland will begin using a new name and logo this season, becoming the Guardians, after years of controversy over the name, which was considered offensive by many. They will play their first official meeting as the Guardians on Thursday, when Shane Bieber will possibly take the mound against Kansas City. Their first home game will be April 15 against San Francisco.
The Cardinals reunited Albert Pujols with Puerto Rico’s Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright in what could be a bye to the trio that won the World Series in 2006 with St. Louis. Both Molina and Pujols announced that they will play their last season. Wainwright hinted that he, too, might retire after 2022. After a decade with both Los Angeles teams, the 42-year-old Pujols returned to St. Louis by signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal.
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The campaign arrives after interesting winter