Major League Baseball enjoyed an anomaly of a season in 2020, holding an abbreviated 60-game regular season before inviting a record 16 teams to participate in the playoffs. The coronavirus pandemic also forced MLB to introduce a bevy of rule changes, most of which won’t be sticking around.
However, neither will the truncated 60-game schedule. MLB is expected to pursue full 162-game season next year as health experts work toward creating a vaccine that would allow the U.S. to open back up to full capacity once again. There’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding expectations for fan attendance next year as well as teams’ operating budgets amid the financial fallout from the pandemic, but that won’t stop the baseball calendar from pushing forward to Opening Day 2021.
The 2020-21 MLB offseason will be a truly unique one, especially with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring after next season. Here’s a list of key dates to know for the months leading up to baseball’s 2021 return.
World Series: The 2020 World Series will end either Oct. 27 or 28, depending on whether the Tampa Bay Rays force a Game 7 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Once the series ends, teams will have five days to decide if they’re going to pick up any eligible players’ contract options or extend the $18.9 million qualifying offer to their impending free agents. Players with opt-out clauses in their contracts also must determine whether to opt back into their deals or test free agency. Clubs are free to make trades as soon as the morning after the conclusion of the World Series.
Free agency: Five days after the World Series ends, free agency will begin. Teams will be free to court and sign any players available on the open market.
2020 BBWAA awards: Awards for the 2020 MLB season will be handed out beginning Nov. 9, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America will name the NL and AL Rookies of the Year. Manager of the Year honors will be announced Nov. 10, Cy Young awards Nov. 11 and MVPs on Nov. 12.
Non-tender deadline: The free agent market is expected to gain a few names Dec. 2, when teams must decide whether or not to tender contracts to their players on rookie deals. Non-tender candidates are typically either players due for a raise in arbitration or fringe roster candidates taking up valuable space on the 40-man. The deadline is 8 p.m. ET that evening.
Winter Meetings: The 2020 Winter Meetings were originally scheduled to be held Dec. 6-10 in Dallas, Texas. However, the annual event is expected to be either cancelled or shifted to a virtual environment as a result of the pandemic.
Rule 5 Draft: The Rule 5 Draft is typically held on the final day of the Winter Meetings, which this year falls on Dec. 10. Minor leaguers who have exceeded a threshold of service time within an organization must be added to their team’s 40-man roster by Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. ET or else risk them being poached from other teams in the Rule 5 Draft. If a team selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft, that player must stay on the active roster for the entirety of the 2021 season or be returned to their original club.
Arbitration exchange deadline: Players with between three and six years of service time (and certain players with two) are eligible for arbitration, which allows them to negotiate with their respective teams on their salaries for the upcoming season.
Both sides have until Jan. 15, 2021 at 1 p.m. ET to work out a number before they must each submit a desired figure to MLB. A panel of arbitrators then reviews the case of each side, making a ruling to determine which salary the player will receive. Players and their teams are still permitted to negotiate past the deadline, but written submissions must be delivered to MLB by that date.
Spring training: Teams have yet to announce when their pitchers and catchers will be required to report to their respective spring training facilities. Last season, the earliest report date was Feb. 10 with all 30 teams fully in camp by Feb. 17. The first spring training games are scheduled for Feb. 27, 2021.
Opening Day: The 2021 MLB season is set to begin April 1, 2021. All 30 teams have games scheduled for that day, though the times and national broadcast slate are still to be determined.