Feb. 9: The league has formally announced this year’s health-and-safety agreement. The on-field alterations include the return of seven-inning doubleheaders and runners on second base to begin extra innings. Any player is permitted to work as a pitcher in a given game — a departure from the rules the league had previously planned to put into place that prohibited position players pitching until a certain inning or six-run deficit was in place.
There will also be “strict” enforcement of of unsportsmanlike conduct violations that break physical distancing guidelines (i.e. players and coaches going out of their way to argue in an umpire’s face, bench-clearing brawls, etc.).
From a roster construction standpoint, the standard roster size will revert to 26 players until a September expansion to 28. In the event of a Covid-19 outbreak within a club, those teams will be permitted to add players to the MLB roster and return them to the minors, without burning minor league options or placing them on waivers, once their infected players are cleared to return from Covid protocols. Teams will again travel with five-man taxi squads.
MLB is also enforcing facemasks “other than for players on the field during a game or during pre-game warmups,” enhancing its contact-tracing capabilities and adding mental health resources for each club. Players who come in contact with a confirmed positive case of Covid-19 will now be subject to a week-long quarantine and must test negative on the fifth day of said quarantine.
The full scope of the changes and a detailed, point-by-point description can be seen in MLB’s official press release.
8:19pm: Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have reached an agreement on health and safety protocols for spring training and the regular season, Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets. Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports previously reported a deal could be in place as early as tonight.
According to Keyser, the league will keep seven-inning doubleheaders and the runner on second base in extra innings around during the upcoming campaign. However, there will not be a universal designated hitter in 2021, meaning pitchers will go back to hitting for at least another season as the league and the union negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement before ’22 (Sherman confirms Keyser’s report). Questions about the universal DH have loomed large this offseason and affected such high-profile free agents as Nelson Cruz (Twins) and Marcell Ozuna (Braves), though those two sluggers have agreed to new contracts in recent days.
The league and the union haven’t been able to agree on much lately, including MLB’s 154-game regular-season proposal for 2021. But there’s at least more clarity on how the upcoming season will look, thanks in part to Monday’s news. Barring any COVID-related changes, spring training will commence Feb. 17 and a 162-game season will start April 1. However, between now and next winter, MLB and the players still have a lot of ground to make up in order to avoid a work stoppage.