Less than three weeks out from spring training report dates, there is still uncertainty with the 2021 schedule.
It was widely reported over the weekend that MLB sent the players’ association a proposal Friday to begin the season in late April (as opposed to April 1) and play 154 games (as opposed to 162). Under the league’s proposal, players would make their full 162-game salaries. MLB has not played a 154-game schedule since 1961.
The MLBPA is considering the proposal but hasn’t agreed to it. A response is expected early this week, and if the players don’t go with it, ESPN reports that spring training would begin on time and that several notable rule changes — playoff expansion, universal DH, seven-inning doubleheaders — would also be uncertain for 2021.
Already this offseason, the league has used the universal DH as a carrot for players if they agree to expanded playoffs. The players do not see this as a fair trade-off for several reasons:
- The financial benefit to owners of expanded playoffs far outweighs the financial gain to players of having a universal DH.
- Many believe that if the playoff field is expanded to 14 teams, there will be less incentive for borderline contenders to spend in free agency. There would be less urgency for teams that already believe they can win 85-87 games.
- Playoff expansion can be a big bargaining chip for the players in CBA negotiations. The current CBA expires after the 2021 season.
The league's rationale in delaying the start of the season is to reduce the risk of playing among COVID issues. Arizona, for example, where half the league plays spring training, currently has the nation's highest infection rate. Delaying the season could allow more games to be played in front of fans, something every team justifiably wants.
But negotiations between these sides are rarely cut and dried.
Stay tuned, there will be more news early this week.