Why can’t we have nice things?
It is abundantly clear that despite the fact that there SHOULD be wide areas of agreement between MLB and MLBPA regarding how the league should operate given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these two sides really don’t like each other and seem intent squeezing every bit of advantage over the other at every given opportunity.
For example, many of the rules that were put in place for the 2020 season had the desired effects. Seven inning doubleheaders shortened the amount of time that teams were in close proximity together and, given that the number of doubleheaders increased with postponements due to positive tests, managing that was always going to be an important part of any season. The runner on second rule is weird, but seemed to eliminate those marathon extra inning games that nearly everyone in the league hated.
However, as we can see from the agreement (at least as it stands now) on the 2021 season, one area that was highly regarded and seemed to benefit both sides is still being used as a bargaining chip by owners even though both sides want it.
Source confirms: MLB and the Players Association have reached agreement on health and safety protocols for spring training and the regular season. A necessary step as the sport again endeavors to play through COVID-19 pandemic. First: @JoelSherman1. Also on it: @HannahRKeyser.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 9, 2021
Hearing that MLB and the MLBPA could have the health and safety protocols finalized as early as tonight and expect it to include seven-inning double headers and the runner on second in extra innings, DH not expected to be included.— Hannah Keyser (@HannahRKeyser) February 8, 2021
The MLB/PA deal is for the 2021 season and will include 7-inning Doubleheaders and the modified extra inning rules with runner starting on 2b. There is no universal DH that is currently part of the agreement.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 9, 2021
There is a lot to unpack, but the gist is that the rules being put in place are very similar to the ones that the 2020 season operated under.....except the universal DH and expanded playoffs. The expanded playoffs have been a big part of the league’s ask of MLBPA given the increased revenues that they bring, but the players side feels (and probably correctly) that that further disincentivizes teams to maximize wins because making the playoffs is easier (thereby suppressing player salaries at the higher end) and also that the players don’t get a proper share of those playoff revenues.
That has led owners and the league to use the universal DH as a bargaining chip to get expanded playoffs. Even though ownership seems to benefit from having the universal DH in place, previous proposals from the league have only included the DH in the National League if there were expanded playoffs. The players balked and now the DH seems to be a key point of not only the discussions over the 2021 season, but the upcoming CBA negotiations which could be the most contentious we have seen since the 1994 strike.
One note here...it does seem like that on the health/safety protocols side of things, MLB is taking notes from other sports in terms of how they are doing contact tracing to improve in that area. Beyond that, though...things appear to be close to what they were in 2020. There is still time for both sides to agree on a universal DH...but for the moment at least, it is leaning towards pitchers hitting in the National League again and that makes me sad.