Last year, MLB and the Players' Association agreed to a number of rule changes so that the 2020 season could best proceed under the cloud of a global pandemic. Given that the 2021 season also figures to be compromised by COVID-19, even as the vaccine rollout continues, similar tweaks to the rules may be in the offing.
Speaking of which, MLB in particular wants to keep in place for 2021 two rules from 2020 -- i.e., reducing doubleheaders to seven innings per game and beginning extra innings with a runner on second base, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports. The compressed nature of the 2020 schedule, which was shortened to 60 regular season games, made such changes advisable so as to cut down on player workload and reduce the length of games. While the 2021 season figures to be significantly longer, pandemic permitting, these two rules tweaks may help things run more smoothly. Presumably, the Players' Association would be amenable to retaining the doubleheader and extra innings rules.
What's less certain is whether the universal designated hitter will return for 2021. While it's likely part of the sport's long-term future, the significance of the change may mean that it won't be addressed in full until the next collective bargaining agreement, which expires after this season, is negotiated. The players generally favor the universal DH in large measure because in theory it means additional high-paying roles in the National League. The owners, however, recognize this and likely want some kind of give-back in negotiations in exchange for the presence of the DH in both leagues. Similarly, the owners no doubt favor retaining the expanded postseason format -- it went from 10 teams to 16 in 2020 -- but players may balk at that without concessions from the league.
What's remarkable is that we're within a month of the usual reporting dates for pitchers and catchers, and still these vital issues haven't been resolved. If nothing else, expect seven-inning doubleheaders and a runner on second after the ninth inning to be part of the MLB landscape in 2021.