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Breaking down the biggest Dodgers and Angels questions ahead of the season

Major League Baseball is (finally) ramping up. Bill Plashke, Jorge Castillo, Jack Harris and Mike DiGiovanna break down each team’s to-do list before the start of the 2022 season.

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Baseball is back, with MLB owners lifting their lockout of the players Thursday after the two sides struck a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement.

It means a condensed schedule and hectic spring training now lie ahead for the Dodgers, who enter 2022 trying to recapture the NL West and win their second World Series in three seasons, and the Angels, who are looking to end a seven-year playoff drought.

With the season on the verge of getting underway, here are nine key questions facing the teams:

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What’s the situation with Trevor Bauer?

Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer stands on the mound against the San Francisco Giants in May.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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Right now, it remains unclear. Bauer was put on administrative after being accused of sexual assault, but over the offseason was not charged with a crime. He has been preparing as though he will return this season, including making an appearance this week at the MLBPA’s player camp in Mesa, Ariz. But he is still awaiting potential punishment from the league (Bauer could appeal any decision, but the MLB domestic violence and sexual assault policy does not stay any suspension until an appeal is heard).

According to people familiar with the situation, the Dodgers are still awaiting guidance from the league, which is expected to address the situation in the coming days.

Until then, Bauer’s short-term and long-term future with the club remain in question.

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When are other players reporting to camp?

A socially distanced crowd at Camelback Ranch stadium watches the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers will report to Camelback Ranch this weekend.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The Dodgers and Angels can begin reporting to camp this weekend. Many players are already in Arizona, where they’ve been working out either at the union camp or with their own trainers.

The mandatory report date for players across the league is Sunday (except for players who have visa issues). Spring training games are scheduled to begin next weekend. Opening day for the Dodgers will be on April 8 in Denver against the Colorado Rockies. The Angels will open at home against the Houston Astros on April 7.

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When can the teams start signing free agents?

Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers throws a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 25, 2021.
Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers throws a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 25, 2021, in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Free agency began once the collective bargaining agreement was officially ratified Thursday — setting off what is expected to be a frenzied market in which the Dodgers could be major players.

The club still has several outstanding free agents, headlined by pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Joe Kelly. The team has also been linked with some of the other biggest names still available, including first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Carlos Correa.

Unlike a normal winter, negotiations aren’t expected to drag on very long. With such a tight window between the opening of camps and opening day, there will be a sense of urgency to get deals done. And it means the Dodgers’ roster could look significantly different by this time next week.

The Angels are expected to pursue another starting pitcher via free agency or trade, and they will look to bolster a bullpen anchored by closer Raisel Iglesias and veteran left-hander Aaron Loup.

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How does the new CBA impact the teams?

Dodgers players walk the field at Camelback Ranch during spring training last year.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Of all the changes in the new collective bargaining agreement, the increased thresholds for the competitive balance tax could have the biggest impact on the Dodgers.

The team has been one of the few in baseball in recent years to consistently carry payrolls near (or above) MLB’s competitive balance tax, including a $285-million mark last year that blew past the league’s threshold of $210 million.

Now, the CBT will be raised to $230 million in 2022 with incremental rises every year thereafter, eventually getting to $244 million by 2026.

That should give the Dodgers, who paid a $32-million tax bill from last season, some extra flexibility while pursuing free agents and building their roster.

The Angels, with a current CBT payroll of $188 million, have some wiggle room under the first threshold.

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The only new limitation: Teams that surpass the threshold by at least $60 million will be subject to a new 80% tax-level penalty (previously, the highest possibility tax penalty was 45%).

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Isn’t there also a universal DH?

Angels star Shohei Ohtani hits a home run against the Houston Astros on Sept. 21, 2021, at Angel Stadium.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Correct. Starting this season, pitchers will no longer take at-bats in National League games, opening up a whole new spot to be filled in the Dodgers’ lineup.

When the league temporarily instituted a universal DH in 2020, the Dodgers used it as a chance to keep regulars off of their feet, rotating it among 11 players in just 60 games.

The Dodgers could do something similar this season, either as a way to protect such veteran players as Justin Turner and AJ Pollock from injury, or give more opportunities to such younger bats as Gavin Lux, Edwin Ríos and Matt Beaty. Max Muncy could also be an option if the Dodgers sign Freeman to play first, though Muncy has the ability to slide over to second base, too.

The Angels have a pretty good option at DH. A guy by the name of Shohei Ohtani.

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And expanded playoffs?

Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, top, celebrates after the Braves beat the Dodgers.
Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, top, celebrates after the Braves beat the Dodgers in the 2021 National League Championship Series.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

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Another new feature of the CBA: A 12-team postseason format, in which the top two division winners in each league will receive a bye to the division series while the other four clubs will play in best-of-three wild-card rounds.

This rule has the ability to either help or hurt the Dodgers. It gives them more margin for error in the regular season, with three wild-card spots available in each league (something that could be helpful in a potentially difficult NL West division). But, it also raises the possibility that the team could win its division but still find itself only two losses from elimination.

Any expansion of the postseason will benefit the Angels, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2009 and haven’t reached the postseason since 2014.

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What do the pitching staffs look like?

Right-hander Noah Syndergaard delivers a pitch.
The Angels hope Noah Syndergaard, who pitched last season for the Mets, can bolster their rotation.
(Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

Walker Buehler and Julio Urías headline the Dodgers’ current crop of starters, comprising one of the better one-two punches in baseball. Kershaw’s return could further bolster the top of the rotation.

Beyond that, there are some questions. Tony Gonsolin will be asked to step into a bigger role. Free-agent signee Andrew Heaney will also try to bounce back after several up-and-down years with the Angels.

While there are some other younger options in the organization (and one veteran alternative in David Price), don’t be surprised if the Dodgers are on the hunt for more pitching depth in the coming days.

In the bullpen, Blake Treinen seems like the likeliest option to take over at closer if Jansen isn’t re-signed, while new arrival Daniel Hudson will join a group of younger arms including Phil Bickford, Alex Vesia and Brusdar Graterol in middle relief.

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Ohtani, the two-way star, and Noah Syndergaard, limited by elbow surgery to two innings in the last two seasons, head an Angels rotation that probably will include Michael Lorenzen and three from a group of Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Griffin Canning and Reid Detmers.

The back of the Angels’ bullpen looks stout with Iglesias, Loup and Mike Mayers, but they could use more depth.

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Do the lineups need help, too?

Angels' Mike Trout walks through the dugout during a baseball game.
Angels star Mike Trout will be back after missing most of the 2021 season with a calf strain.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

While Corey Seager’s departure to Texas has left a hole in the lineup, the Dodgers still have proven players at most of their positions. Former MVPs Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, as well as Pollock, continue to anchor the outfield (with Bellinger targeting a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2021). Justin Turner is back at third. Trea Turner can slide over to shortstop. And Will Smith will be backed up by Austin Barnes behind the plate.

Chris Taylor, who is fresh off signing a four-year contract, could take over at second or keep filling in around the diamond. Gavin Lux will also be trying to build off the strides he made at the end of last year.

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The bench could use some help, and the addition of Freeman or another big-name bat would add another dangerous dimension to the Dodgers’ order. But as it stands, the team won’t be entering camp with many glaring holes.

If Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon of the Angels return to full strength after missing most of 2021 because of injuries, they should form a lethal middle-of-the-lineup trio with Ohtani, the 2021 American League most valuable player. A void at shortstop could be filled by second baseman David Fletcher.

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Are there any injuries to worry about?

Dodgers infielder Max Muncy tosses a ball during a training session while wearing an arm brace.
Dodgers infielder Max Muncy sustained a torn ulnar collateral ligament during the final game of the 2021 regular season.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Muncy is coming off a torn ulnar collateral ligament, but recently told AM 570 he’s on track to be ready for opening day. Relievers Caleb Ferguson and Tommy Kahnle are also due back after each undergoing Tommy John surgery late in 2020.

Right-hander Dustin May will take longer to return. He had Tommy John surgery in May and won’t be back until at least the middle of this season.

Otherwise, the only other big injury question would potentially be Kershaw, who missed the playoffs last year because of a forearm injury but didn’t suffer any ligament damage, allowing him to avoid surgery.

Trout, the three-time AL MVP, suffered a season-ending right-calf strain last May 17, and Rendon suffered a season-ending right-hip injury in early July. The Angels’ season could hinge on the health of the two sluggers and Syndergaard.

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