For all the uncertainty surrounding the Cubs this offseason, including whether they’ll move any core players to retool under new team president Jed Hoyer, they and every other team don’t even know what baseball’s rules will be in 2021.
“There’s a lot of rules stuff that we don’t know right now,” Hoyer said Monday.
Major League Baseball added several rule changes for 2020 long before its spring shutdown due to COVID-19. Notable changes included active rosters expanding from 25 to 26 players and the implementation of the three-batter minimum rule.
The league pivoted and added more changes due to the pandemic. The season was only 60 games with regional schedules. Active rosters started at 30 players and were trimmed to 28 as the season went on. There was no cap on the number of pitchers allowed on active rosters — 13 is the maximum in a normal season.
And the biggest rule change was adding a designated hitter to National League play on a full-time basis.
Those 2020-only rules required bargaining between the league and players union, and as of right now, none have been reimplemented for 2021, the last year of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, however, reported Monday negotiations to bring the DH back to the NL for next season and beyond are expected to continue in December.
Due to the pandemic, there’s no telling what next season will look like, even in terms of how many games will be played — the league is planning for 162 right now. And in the short-term, teams have to build their rosters without knowing which 2020 rules, if any, MLB will adopt for next season.
The big one for NL teams is whether or not they’ll have a DH. Until there’s more clarity on that front, those 15 clubs may not be in the market for a guy like Nelson Cruz, a free agent who’s strictly a DH at this point in his career.
For the Cubs, Kyle Schwarber is one core player who could be moved this winter. He made 48 appearances in left field in 2020, but because he’s not a plus-outfielder, his trade value would naturally increase with a universal DH.
That could prove tricky for the Cubs. Depending on their financial picture, Schwarber, projected to make around his 2020 salary (pre-proration) of $7.01 million in 2021, might be a non-tender candidate.
The Cubs would obviously rather get something in return for any core players they move, but with the non-tender deadline coming up fast (Dec. 2), the roster rules uncertainty could throw a wrench into that plan and force them to make a tough decision due to baseball’s financial situation.
"We don’t know the size of the roster. We don’t know if there’s going to be pitcher limits," Hoyer said. "We don’t know if there’s going to be a DH.
“So I think there is a certain level of uncertainty that we have to be comfortable with right now because we’re just not going to know those things before we have to make decisions. That’s just a reality of 2020.”