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The Lockout Is Here, So What’s Next?

The long winter begins.

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it is officially lockout season as Major League Baseball and MLBPA were unable to come to terms in regards to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In turn, the owners implemented said lockout in response, although they certainly didn’t have to do it. Without delving into the legalities of this situation, which I’m certainly not qualified enough to provide much, if any, useful insight, it’s basically another tactic by the owners to maximize their leverage over the players. To be honest, though, the players would probably do the same thing if they were in a similar position. It’s all about maximizing leverage right now and all parties want it.

So, where do we go from here? While the odds of the lockout affecting the season still appears rather low, it does go without saying that the offseason and possibly Spring Training will be greatly impacted. Free agency is effectively closed for a while and players are stuck in limbo. Agreements without physicals, for example, remain only that. Trades are a no-go. It’s going to be a quiet time around baseball likely through the Christmas season.

For the Astros, in particular, it puts a delay on what feels like an inevitable departure with star shortstop Carlos Correa. This lockout also casts additional concern Justin Verlander’s return considering that agreement was announced two weeks ago and nothing has been finalized since then. Depending on the outcome of the labor negotiations — as it pertains to the tax thresholds — Houston could become an active player in the open market, although I doubt there will be a substantial threshold increase to improve the odds of retaining Correa. But any increase could benefit the Astros, who are roughly $20 million (including Verlander’s tentative 2022 salary) below the previous $210 million threshold. Simply not enough room to add a player of great consequence if the club is to retain some degree of payroll flexibility while dodging the tax.

But once the lockout ends, I do expect general manager James Click to address a combination of shortstop, center field, and the bullpen. While keeping Correa is the desired outcome, the organization may look to Trevor Story or other free-agent shortstops for a more team-friendly deal. If they choose to pursue a short-term route, it’ll be meant to serve as a bridge to Jeremy Peña. Michael Conforto might warrant some attention for center field, especially if the shortstop leads evaporate. Another arm for the bullpen might be worth exploring. Then there remains the ever-present possibility of a trade or two.

In any case, we’ll have plenty of time to speculate about potential transactions in the coming weeks and potentially months. The negotiations between MLB and MLBPA are obviously important, but, for the Astros, could possibly bring forth some noteworthy ramifications about how they decide to conduct business for 2022.