Question marks surrounding the 2021 MLB season have many preparing for the worst
As the Los Angeles Dodgers culminated the Major League Baseball (MLB) season by winning the World Series, a sigh of relief spread across the sport of baseball. Regardless of the scandal that occurred with Justin Turner following the last out, they had finally reached the finish line. A long and dreadful year had come to an end, with almost everything still intact. Despite having early struggles with positive COVID-19 tests, the league powered through and delivered fans as best a season as they could. Although they can now put 2020 in the rearview mirror, the real work now begins for 2021, as there are many questions that still need to be answered on how next season might shape up.
In the shortened 60-game season, the MLB implemented new rules that would allow them to see if they could work in regular games. One of the bigger changes was the addition of the designated hitter (DH) in the National League (NL), as it was previously only in the American League (AL). This long-discussed rule change finally came to fruition, and many loved the move. Along with the DH move, another season-long change came with extra-innings. Having looked for more ways to speed up the game in recent years, the MLB decided to add a new rule that gave each team a runner on second base to start the extra-innings. It came with mixed reviews, but ultimately, it did in fact speed up the games. The final big change came in the postseason, as it was expanded to 16 teams from 10. This move allowed a lot more competitiveness but at the same time accepted teams below a .500 record to make it to October.
With the 2020 season in the books, there is no official information about which, if any, of those major rule changes will stick around. When it comes to something like the DH, it was something that had to be addressed early, as many teams had decisions to make on players. If a player was strictly a DH on an NL team, it put the team in a predicament, because there was no word on what is going to happen in 2021. The San Diego Padres declined Mitch Moreland’s $3 million club option because of the uncertainty that lies in that DH spot. With Eric Hosmer holding the first base spot for the Padres, the DH not coming back to the NL would leave no spot for Moreland, leading to his release.
The extra-inning and postseason changes are yet to be discussed. While the extra-inning change had the most mixed reviews, the MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred believed it had the best chance of surviving. With a large emphasis put on speeding up the games, it is a major possibility. As for the postseason, the league has pushed for an expansion to the postseason for many years, but 16 teams may be too drastic of a change to keep.
The shortening of the season coupled with no fans in attendance up until the National League Championship and World Series led to a massive loss for the owners of the clubs. The Athletic reported that the league lost about $3.1 billion in the 2020 season. This has led owners to begin cost cutting, laying off many employees throughout the organization and leading thousands into unemployment. Their goal to try to maximize their earnings has bled into the teams themselves, as some teams have begun making moves to lower their payroll.
While some teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, Padres, White Sox and Mets look eager to sign the big free agents, other teams have been looking for ways to cut the cost of their team. With free agency beginning on Nov. 1, there have been no major signings that have taken place. Because there is no agreement between the MLB and the Players’ Association, not much is known financially. How much a team will have to spend is unknown, so we could be waiting a while until the big players on the market find a new home.
“You know what we are going to hear for a while,” one veteran agent told the New York Post. “We don’t know what we can spend because we don’t know our budget.”
Of course, owners around the league are hoping that there will be fans in attendance in 2021. Attendance is a major financial factor that the owners would like to get back to try and limit their loss.
“As we look forward, we will be more aggressive about having fans in ballparks,” Manfred said. “I don’t think [no fans is] a tenable position for us going forward. We’re going to have to allow the clubs to operate safely. We’re obviously going to have league-wide protocols. If local public health authorities allow for fans, I think you’re going to see fans in the ballpark next year.”
For the 2020 season to even occur, the league and its Players’ Association underwent brutal negotiations over players salaries. Entering 2021 negotiations may be an even taller task for both sides. With salaries, attendance and rule changes among other things that need to be discussed, the negotiations must be swift in order to ensure an 162-game season next year. But, as we saw in the negotiations earlier this year, the owners of clubs might look to cut some of the players’ pay in order to recover some of the lost money. Of course, adding in attendance can help the financial aspect of the situation, but with the country seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases once again, the MLB will need to be mindful about what they would like to do.
“[162 games is] the plan,” head of the MLBPA Tony Clark said. “We’ve had some informal dialogue, but it’s very early in the process. When I say early in the process, although we’ve gotten some feedback from the players, that engagement is ongoing for our guys. It’s really laying out the moving pieces as far as health and safety and on-field rules are concerned.”
MLB, its owners and the Players’ Association must act fast. Not only can their negotiations affect the 2021 season, it can also affect a number of teams and players who are awaiting more financial numbers that can give them a clearer picture about their futures. Another strike for the league can be destructive, so it is in the best interest of both sides to get something done. Their lack of preparation is having a ripple effect on the entire league and with everyone already being affected by the pandemic, this winter’s negotiations can impact the future of baseball—for better or worse.
Written by: Omar Navarro — firstname.lastname@example.org