What MLB faces with 2021 season talks set to start
You want to know when Steve Cohen will make his first legit “Dawn of a new Mets era” purchase. If the Yankees and DJ LeMahieu will find common ground. Who will land Francisco Lindor in the biggest trade of this Hot Stove campaign?
All fine questions, yet this unique baseball offseason carries even greater (if far less fun) unknowns: When will the 2021 Major League Baseball season start, and what will it look like in terms of schedule and rules?
Those vital issues will be tackled more intensely, starting this week.
Multiple industry sources told The Post that the owners and players intend to restart discussions concerning the makeup of next season, which stands in flux due to the ongoing novel coronavirus. While the two sides have held talks since the conclusion of the World Series, those were relatively cursory, as the MLB Players Association wanted to hold its annual executive board meeting and choose its new executive subcommittee members (who are most involved in collective bargaining) before diving too deep into the details. That process occurred last week, as the union elected the Yankees’ Zack Britton and Gerrit Cole, Cleveland’s Lindor and free agents Jason Castro and Marcus Semien to join holdovers Andrew Miller of the Cardinals, free agent James Paxton and Max Scherzer of the Nationals.
The development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines provides hope that MLB will be able to hold a season considerably longer than last year’s 60 games and allow some paying customers into their ballparks, after only the National League Championship Series and World Series sold tickets in 2020. However, holding the standard 162-game schedule with full capacity next year appears little more than a fantasy.
The owners and players must determine: Would it make sense to postpone the season’s start until a certain date (like Memorial Day), or report to spring training at the normal mid-February juncture with the knowledge that a pause might be necessary? Further complicating factors could be the unavailability of teams’ home sites; Canada, which wouldn’t let the Blue Jays play in Toronto last season, still seems in no hurry to let Americans cross its border, while the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers have rescheduled home games in Arizona after California’s Santa Clara County (where no baseball team plays, to be fair) imposed a short-term ban on games and practices for contact sports.
Oh, one more thing: Will the players get their full salaries?
Then there are the rules of play. All of the bells and whistles imposed for 2020 COVID ball — the universal designated hitter, the expanded playoffs, starting extra innings with a runner on second base and seven-inning doubleheaders — dissipated as soon as last season ended. The owners proposed last month that the National League would adopt the DH next season in return for an increased postseason from the currently set field of 10. The players rejected that, feeling that wasn’t a fair swap as well as philosophically wondering whether too large an October tournament might negatively impact teams’ spending if it became easier to qualify.
While NL teams naturally would like to know whether they should plan to field a DH or not — and all the clubs would benefit from being informed of the playoff plans — it’s hard to pull one or two items out of the greater bargaining bouillabaisse. Ultimately, a plan must be reached to settle all on-the-field items at once.
The challenge for the players and owners will be to build off their impressive cooperation that actually executed a 2020 campaign amidst COVID and not recede into the ill will and poor communication which preceded the season (and generated oodles of bad publicity for the sport). If they can quietly and peacefully hammer out terms for 2021 while their fans’ focus remains on free agents and trades, that would be a big win — an upset win, you could argue, given the recent history of verbal violence — for the sport.