It’s getting late, well, late.
The Philadelphia Phillies are scheduled to begin the 2022 regular season on March 31 in Houston, but it looks increasingly doubtful that will actually happen.
As the owner-imposed lockout nears three months long, there’s no evidence that a new collective bargaining agreement is close.
Wednesday, a Major League Baseball spokesperson told Michael Silverman of The Boston Globe that Feb. 28 is the deadline for a new deal to be reached and to still have the season start on time. The spokesperson added that “missed games are missed games,” a warning from the league that if they can’t reach a new deal with the MLB Players Association in the coming days, the 2022 season won’t be 162 games long.
While that may be posturing by the league, with each passing day a full season becomes less and less likely. These four Phillies would be the most affected by the season being delayed and most likely, shortened:
Eflin underwent season-ending surgery to repair his patellar tendon in September, a procedure that came with a recovery timeline of six-to-eight months.
Because of the lockout, Eflin hasn’t spoken to the media to update his recovery, and neither has either Dave Dombrowski or Joe Girardi. It’s possible that Eflin, who will turn 28 in April, has had an excellent recovery and is trending towards being ready to pitch in the major leagues around the six-month mark. (Six months would be March 10, since Eflin had his surgery on Sept. 10.)
More than likely, though, is that Eflin isn’t going to be ready to pitch if his first scheduled start is in early April. Even if the season is only delayed a couple weeks, it’s not clear if Eflin will be ready for the start of the regular season. However, if there’s an extended delay — like the season starts on May 1 or later — it would certainly increase the likelihood that Eflin is ready for the beginning of the regular season.
One of the longest-tenured Phillies, Eflin is entering a contract year. He went 4-7 with a 4.17 ERA and 3.68 FIP in 18 starts a season ago.
Those in baseball will tell you that when a pitcher has a giant innings jump year-over-year, they don’t worry as much about injuries in the year that the increase occurs, but the year after.
Well, 2022 will be the year after for Wheeler, who led baseball with 213 1/3 innings pitched in 2021, a year after throwing 71 innings in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
This isn’t an exact science, Wheeler may pitch 200+ innings with no problem in 2022. But he had a giant innings jump a year ago, and is closing in on the seven-year anniversary of his Tommy John Surgery. Monitoring the health of Wheeler — who is under contract through 2024 — will be part of the 2022 season, and perhaps having a slightly shorter season could benefit him in the long-run.
With that said, I appeared with Ty Daubert and Nathan Ackerman on The Phillies Nation Podcast last month and we discussed who is behind Bryce Harper as the second most likely Phillie to be a future Hall of Famer. My answer was probably no one, but if I had to pick one, it would be Wheeler. After some very nice seasons with the New York Mets, he’s found another level in his early-30s. If last year’s National League Cy Young Award runner-up had an insane seven or eight-year stretch in his 30s — like Max Scherzer has — perhaps he could build a case for Cooperstown.
That’s probably not realistic, but if the 2022 season is shortened, two years after the 60-game 2020 season, it would further reduce the likelihood.
While the other three names on this list could all benefit in some way from the 2022 season being shortened, it’s hard to think of a reason that a regular season that isn’t 162 games would be anything but bad for Harper’s legacy.
The pandemic-shortened 2020 season already cost Harper more than half of the typical 162 games that would have been played during his age-27 season. If a month or more of the 2022 is lost because of the owner-imposed lockout, Harper would be getting close to losing a full season of games during what should be his peak years for things entirely out of his control.
Harper will enter his age-29 season within striking distance of 300 home runs, as he sits on 267 on his career. In a full season, he could very well clear the 300 home run mark before his 30th birthday. But if a chunk of the season is cut off, hitting 33 or more home runs in 2022 becomes much less certain. And down the road — as he’s approaching 400 or even 500 home runs — we could look back at this season as a turning point, or what prevented him from clearing even higher hurdles.
After what was essentially a lost 2020 season, Suárez wowed everyone — including the eventual National League MVP — by posting a 1.36 ERA and 2.72 FIP across 106 innings in 2021.
The Phillies will ask Suárez to be their No. 3 starter in 2022, and pitch 50-75 more innings (at least) than what he did a year ago. He’s another guy that if he had to make a few less starts in 2022, that probably wouldn’t be the worst thing for him.
Suárez has the type of fearlessness on the mound, though, that you feel like if the Phillies asked him to pitch 300 innings in 2022, he’d find a way to do it.
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