MLB Returns to 10-Team Playoffs and AL Only DH For 2021
The MLB and the MLB Players Association came to an agreement regarding health and safety protocols for the 2021 season this past week. This agreement came in the nick of time, with pitchers and catchers set to report to their Florida or Arizona Spring Training homes this week. The league is planning on playing a full 162 game schedule this year, which will require everything to proceed smoothly.
So how exactly are things like the universal DH and playoff expansion a part of health and safety protocol? Last season, the National League adopted the DH to protect their pitchers. Hitting adds a different aspect to the game, and it would have been unfair to pitchers to expect them to bat after a stunted offseason. Furthermore, this sped up the pace of play, something the Commissioner's Office has made a priority. This season, however, because there is a full offseason, the universal DH was nixed.
What is most interesting about these negotiations is that the MLB has decided that adding a universal DH would be a financial victory for players, as it adds 15 roster spots into the league that teams could choose to pay a premium for. Because of that, MLB has pinned this issue to expanding the playoffs beyond 10 teams, something that is financially beneficial to the league. This is something that the Player's Union is absolutely against as they believe it will incentivize teams to spend less on payroll as they have better odds of making the playoffs, and many MLB franchises are already notoriously penny pinching. It is confusing as to why the league has taken this position though as universal DH is not something fans or players are truly clamoring for.
Two rules that were again agreed on though by players and the league was to have seven-inning doubleheaders and to begin all extra innings with a runner on second. Both of these rules will continue for a few reasons. First is that it will allow for all 162 games to be more easily played in case of postponements due to COVID-related reasons. Secondly, it allows teams to save their pitchers in case of schedule congestion, or contract tracing issues that could severely affect pitching staffs. These rules have won over their skeptics, who understand that to properly play a season during a pandemic, there have to be adjustments to the way the game is completed, as long as it does not affect quality of play.
As a closing note, the league and teams will not be forcing their players to take a Covid-19 vaccine when their turn in line comes, although they expect every player to follow the science and protect themselves and their loved ones. Hopefully these provisions lead to a successful and 162 game season this year.