With MLB and the MLBPA reportedly preparing to ramp up talks on the structure of the 2021 season and the potential continuation of 2020 rule changes, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that Major League Baseball sent a memo to clubs just last week telling them to operate under the assumption that there will not be a universal DH in 2021.
It’s not a firm declaration that there will be no NL DH next season, and the two sides will surely discuss the matter further as they also assess 2020 changes like seven-inning doubleheaders, runners on second base in extra innings, roster size and expanded playoffs. Both sides have clear reasons to want the universal DH, and its permanent implementation is broadly seen as a question of “when” that will happen rather than “if” it will happen.
With regard to the current offseason, it’s a particularly important element for several players. Nelson Cruz is the most obvious name impacted by the universal designated hitter (or lack thereof) in 2021, but it’ll have an impact on other free agents as well. The Braves used Marcell Ozuna at DH more than in left field last year, and concerns about how his defense will hold up over the course of a multi-year pact will surely impact his earning potential among NL clubs. Michael Brantley could benefit from more time at designated hitter, and there are several first base types who’d benefit from the addition of 15 new DH spots.
The lack of clarity on the matter has likely already contributed to some offseason decisions. Perhaps the Cubs would’ve non-tendered Kyle Schwarber regardless, as they look to pare back payroll, but not knowing whether they’d have a DH option couldn’t have helped Schwarber’s case. It’s a similar story in Atlanta where Adam Duvall was cut loose after a 16-homer season. While Duvall is a solid defender in left field, the Braves are also uncertain of Ozuna’s status, which surely played into the Duvall decision to some extent.
Even if the league and the union formally agree to table the universal DH for the 2021 campaign, it’ll again be a heavily discussed piece of next offseason’s looming collective bargaining talks. The current collective bargaining agreement is slated to expire in Dec. 2021.