Major League Baseball proposed to the MLBPA a 154-game regular season for the 2021 season. In the proposal, Spring Training and the season would be delayed by about one month based on concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow more time for vaccinations to take place. Additionally, the playoffs would be expanded to 14 teams (7 per league), the designated hitter would become universal to both leagues, and there would continue to be seven-inning doubleheaders and starting extra innings with a runner on second base.
Under the MLB plan, players would get 100% of pay IF all 154 scheduled games are played. The Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, would have the right to stop Spring Training, the regular season, or the postseason under certain conditions. Those conditions include government restrictions prevent five or more teams from playing home games even without fans, unreasonable risk to players or staff (Manfred would have to consult with medical experts and the MLBPA), or if the number of MLB regulars not available due to COVID-19 undermines completive integrity.
The MLBPA decided to reject the proposal outright and did not make any counterproposal to MLB. Explaining its reasoning for rejection of the proposal, the union said,
Late last week, the MLBPA for the first time this offseason received a proposal from MLB to delay Spring Training and Opening Day by approximately one month.
Under the proposal, the end of the season would be delayed one week, the regular season would be shortened to 154 games and all thirty teams would be required to play several doubleheaders. Players would also be required to accept previously rejected proposals that link expanded playoffs with expansion of the designated hitter.
Although Player salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB’s proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season.
The MLBPA Executive Board and Player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners’ proposal throughout the weekend and today. The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that Players will not accept MLB’s proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB’s commitment to again direct its Clubs to prepare for an on-time start.
We do not make this decision lightly. Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalizing enhanced health and safety protocols that will help Players and Clubs meet these challenges.
The league responded.
On the advice of medical experts, we proposed a one-month delay to the start of Spring Training and the regular season to better protect the health and safety of players and support staff. A delay of the season would allow for the level of COVID-19 infection rates to decrease and additional time for the distribution of vaccinations, as well as minimizing potential disruptions to the 2021 season that currently face all sports.
The offer included starting the regular season on April 29th and playing a 154-game schedule that would pay players in full as if playing 162 games. We also proposed two changes from the 2020 season that were overwhelmingly popular with our fans – for this season only, featuring a modified expanded Postseason (seven teams per League) and the universal designated hitter rule.
This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons without impacting any rights either the players or the Clubs currently have under the Basic Agreement or Uniform Player’s Contract for pay and service time.
In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols. Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball. We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.
Commenting prior to the rejection of MLB’s proposal by MLBPA, Ken Rosenthal tweeted:
Union likely to reject MLB proposal to delay season, and might not even counter. A number of players believe it is too late in offseason to revise schedule. Possible that parties can revisit expanded playoffs/DH before start of season, but union opposes expanded playoffs.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 1, 2021
Jeff Passan reported that the proposal met with resistance on multiple fronts with specific concern about the amount of power Rob Manfred would be granted to cancel games and potentially cut into players’ pay.
The league did offer to take out language that allowed the commissioner to cancel or postpone the season. The expanded postseason was presumably a potential negotiation point as well according to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports.
The league did offer to remove language PA believed expanded Manfred's powers to cancel or postpone games. So both sides would have retained rights related to that, just as in CBA. Still left expanded postseason on table, presumably. Anyway, they'll just play the season or try.— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) February 2, 2021
Jon Heyman suggested the universal DH was up for discussion as well. He also suggested that the MLBPA is more concerned with potential injury than COVID-19.
Sources say MLB would have agreed to push the season back without the expanded playoffs/universal DH piece if the union made a counter, which they declined to do. (The union seemed to prefer to start earlier due to an even greater concern about baseball injuries than Covid.)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 2, 2021
So as things stand as of right now:
As of this morning:— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 2, 2021
- 26-man regular-season rosters
- No designated hitter in NL parks
- No runner on 2B in extras
- No 7-inning doubleheaders
- Five playoff teams per league
All subject to change, however, as MLB & MLBPA hash out 2021 health & safety protocols.
What does this mean for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans? According to Milwaukee Brewers’ beat writer, Adam McCalvy, David Stearns responded to this news as follows:
We’ve been preparing for an on-time arrival in Spring Training in the event that was the outcome, so we’ll be ready. If, for whatever reason, it changes before we show up, we’ll adjust. But we’re expecting to and instructing all of our players to show up on time...
One of the things we learned last year is we have to be ready to adjust. I think last year the number of playoff teams changed the night before the season was set to begin, and some of the rules changed mid-season. I think we understand we have to be agile...
McCalvy also reported that Stearns is targeting Opening Day as his timeline for setting rosters, not the start of Spring Training. He also addressed the designated hitter.
One thing worth emphasizing: David Stearns' target for setting a roster is Opening Day, not the first day of Spring Training. "I do think that's important for everyone to understand -- in this offseason maybe more than others in the past."— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 2, 2021
The contentiousness of the relationship between MLB and the MLBPA is rearing its ugly head in this one. These proposals by MLB and the rejection of them without counter by the MLBPA is looking more and more like precursors for what is to come once the current collective bargaining agreement expires in December. MLB seems to be trying to win the public relations battle. MLBPA is obviously suspicious of a power grab by the commissioner’s office. For a more detailed version for a “why” the players are not even entering into negotiations, Maury Brown offers some insight.
Whatever is transpiring between the two sides, it looks as if baseball games played by Major League Baseball players are on the horizon. Spring Training is set to take place on-time. The regular season is set to take place on-time. The rules of the game are set to revert back to 2019. Everything is a go...That is unless things change. And there is still plenty of time for that to happen.