Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed on COVID-19 health and safety protocol rules for the 2021 season, the league announced Tuesday. They have agreed on terms for both spring training and for the regular season, and the protocols will impact players on and off the field.
In many ways, the 2021 season will look a lot like 2020, except that the plan is for a full 162 games.
The key on-field rules adjustments that will be noticed as a difference from pre-2020 will be:
- Doubleheaders will be two seven-inning games.
- Each offense will get a runner on second to start every extra inning.
- Active roster limit will revert to 26 and expand to 28 in September.
- MLB clubs are permitted to carry up to five additional Taxi Squad players on all road trips.
Remember, the goal here is to limit overly extended stays at the ballpark while also protecting players from additional wear and tear.
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There will not, however, be a universal designated hitter as part of this agreement. That means all AL games have the DH, all NL games won't and interleague games will have the DH in AL parks but not NL parks.
As has been thoroughly reported in recent weeks, the MLB/owner side offered up the universal designated hitter, but as part of the negotiation, expanded playoffs were included. The MLBPA rejected this offer, meaning the playoff field goes back to five teams per league -- three division winners and two wild cards, which play one game with the winner moving on.
It is possible things could change here before the regular season starts with the two sides agreeing to a DH and expanded playoff field, but for now, an agreement has been made with spring training right around the corner.
Keep in mind, the collective bargaining agreement is up after the season, so all negotiations of things like the DH and expanded playoffs were done with the backdrop of a new agreement needing to happen in several months. Neither side wants to look like it is giving concessions to the other.
As far as the health and safety measures for the 2021 MLB season, the league announced a variety of rules Tuesday morning, including:
- Mandatory five-day at-home quarantine prior to reporting to spring training and frequent administration of PCR tests.
- Ten-day isolation period required for individuals who test positive for COVID-19.
- "Individuals who have been identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of seven days and must test negative on day 5 or later among other requirements to rejoin Club facilities."
- A new league-wide code of conduct prohibiting certain high-risk activities outside the ballpark ("indoor gatherings of 10 or more, indoor restaurants, bars and lounges, fitness and wellness centers, entertainment venues, gaming venues (e.g., casinos) or any other activity that is prohibited by state or local governments.")
- During the season, "individuals during road trips are not permitted to leave the hotel other than for team activities at the team facility or ballpark, other than for medical reasons, outdoor walks/exercise, outdoor dining (if approved by the Joint Committee), or for other low-risk outdoor activities, or in extraordinary circumstances. Members of the traveling party must notify a Club Compliance Officer before leaving the hotel."
- Contact tracing program will require Kinexon contact tracing device to be "worn at all times while in Club facilities, during Club-directed travel, and while engaged in team activities including group workouts and practices."
- "Face coverings must be properly worn at all times when in Club facilities and in the dugout, other than for players on the field during a game or during pregame warmups."
- All MLB clubs will have a compliance officer, contact tracing officer and a face mask enforcement officer. Fines will be issued for non-compliance during games, and the fines will be donated to charity.