Although Major League Baseball is scheduled to kick off the 2021 season in four weeks' time, on April 1, there had still been uncertainty about how the games would be played. Last year, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB instituted the universal designated hitter and implemented an expanded postseason that had 20 teams qualify. It now appears safer to conclude those elements will not be part of the 2021 season.
Both aspects are "dead issues with no recent movement or planned further discussion, multiple people with knowledge of the communications between Major League Baseball and the players association said this week," according to Evan Drellich of The Athletic. As Drellich notes, it's possible the two sides resume talks and hammer out a deal; it just isn't likely with time winding down and the hurdles between them mounting up.
Drellich explains that the owners had greater incentive to get a deal done, with ESPN granting the league a $100 million credit for more postseason games. MLB, in turn, offered the players essentially the same bonus pool as last year, a figure the union rejected, based in part on the expectation that the COVID-19 vaccination efforts will enable for fuller stands than last year's tournament allowed. (Players' postseason shares are based on attendance.)
Both the universal DH and the expanded playoffs are expected to be negotiating chips in the next round of collective bargaining agreement talks this upcoming winter. (The current CBA expires on Dec. 1.) Previously, the owners had attempted to make a trade, granting the universal DH in exchange for an expanded postseason. The union, however, rightly reasoned that to be an unfair deal: the financial ramifications of an increased playoff field greatly outweigh those of adding 15 poorly valued starting jobs.
Nevertheless, it seems likely that the next CBA will see each become the new normal.