Spring Training for the MLB 2021 season has pitchers and catchers from most teams reporting in four weeks. And that, I’m afraid, is all we know.
The MLB 2021 season exists on paper drawn up using invisible ink.
All the bases are covered. Teams have been issued their schedule for a 162 game season. There will be six games played on Saturday, February 27 to open the Spring Training season.
The 91st All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 13 at Truist Park in Atlanta, the ballpark’s first Midsummer Classic and the first to be played in Atlanta since 2000 at Turner Field, and the MLB 2021 regular season will close on Sunday, Oct. 3, featuring 12 divisional games.
That’s it, officially teams, players, and fans know nothing more.
Nevertheless, there are several questions, yet to be answered by MLB and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association (MLBPA), that portends to have a deep and widespread effect on the MLB 2021 season.
Let’s take a look at a few of the questions awaiting answers.
MLB 2021: Team Roster Size
After several machinations in team roster size, and as a direct response to a season played amid a pandemic, MLB announced in early August that clubs will be permitted to maintain 28-player rosters for the remainder of the 2020 season.
That included the playoffs. Also, a 29th player was permitted for each doubleheader, and the taxi squads — a one-off roster wrinkle for 2020 that gave teams an emergency roster supplement — that was expanded from three to five players.
Team roster sizes for the MLB 2021 season are serious business, and it remains to be seen what is to be agreed on.
For instance, the difference between 25 and 28 player’s roster size can mean between $1 -1.5 million added to a team’s payroll, and that’s if the “extra” players make only the major league minimum, which is set at $570,500 for the 2021 season.
In today’s money, that doesn’t seem like much, but if you are a team like the Yankees who are already knocking on the door of paying a luxury tax for 2021, or a team like Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, or Cleveland trying to shed payroll by trading away their best players – it’s a big deal.
Not to mention, of course, the 90 or so jobs that may or may not be available to players who are looking to extend or begin their career in the big leagues.
MLB In 2021: The DH In The National League
On December 7, 2020, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported 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 for the MLB 2021 season.
All well and good, except the MLBPA has yet to weigh in with the prospect of their clients losing as many as fifteen jobs if last year’s rule is not extended.
Similarly, teams like the Mets, who have a budding All-Star player, with limited defensive experience skills in Dominic Smith, find themselves stilted in pursuing trades involving Smith.
This, even though- he can be an explosive use to Mets or any AL team as their team’s DH.
As in the case beforehand with roster sizes, it all comes back to money as teams struggle to find an operating budget that suits their needs and ability to pay for the MLB 2021 season amid a virus that just won’t go away.
MLB In 2021: Will There Be “Asses In The Seats”?
The largest team losses sustained during the 2020 season stemmed from the barring of fans to attend games, and the need as George Steinbrenner so eloquently is said to have expressed, put asses in the seats.
Again, in this regard, the MLB 2021 season is a moving target.
Nearly all teams are bowing, as they should, to the regulations set forth by the state governments they reside in.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, for instance, allowed some 6,700 fans to attend last week’s Buffalo Bills playoff game (right).
Rulings yea or nay like that are what drives team owners crazy, but they are the side of the bread that gets buttered on.
Just as no one can predict the weather, team owners find themselves subject to the whims not only of the COVID-19 virus but in some cases, to the politics of situations that exist over a very diverse country.
MLB and the MLBPA wisely choose to punt on this one, deferring instead to do what they are told. After all, which team wants to be known as the team allowing 35,000 fans attending Opening Day as the same team, a week later, traced to off the board positive COVID tests.
MLB 2021: Other Unresolved But Pertinent Questions
We’ve covered the main left-open questions for the MLB 2021 season, but there are a few others that deserve our attention as they have a direct impact on how the games we see will be played.
- The 7-Inning Double Header Rule
This is a rule that was adopted to relieve the strain on a pitching staff, especially with the guys in the bullpen. The rule was widely well-received by teams and relievers.
Given the usual number of rainouts plus what can be expected postponements during the MLB 2021 season due to COVID-19 player quarantines and positive testing, it’s almost a no-brainer the matter will need to be attended to again.
A sticky question, though, for both MLB and team owners is this. If the rule is extended and fans are permitted to attend, will teams opt for one or two admissions on game day? Expect the worst if you are a fan instead of a shareholder.
MLB 2021 Playoffs: Does Everyone Qualify?
To help salvage a corrupted 2020 season, MLB, with the support of the MLBPA, decided to increase the number of teams qualifying for the playoffs in each league from ten to sixteen.
The jury is still out, but generally in a gentleman’s game like baseball, the more the merrier.
The six-team jump, however, was considered radical, and it’s more likely the MLB 2021 season will see 12, maybe 14 teams qualify for the postseason.
Again, this is all wrapped up in television money, with networks having little or no regard to the issue of fans attending the games. Volume supersedes quality, and there’s no use in fighting it.
The trouble is, of course, the Divisions are not evenly balanced. So, it’s entirely possible we can see the Kansas City Royals from a dissembled AL Central Division making the playoffs, in the same fashion a sub-par team from the NFL East Washington team did this year.
MLB 2021: Kicking The Can Down The Road
The agreement between MLB and the MLBPA expires in December 2021.
That seems like a long time away, but not for the forces entrenched in what is expected to be (again) an all-out bout of fisticuffs, fought largely in the media and blogs such as this.
It’s possible, though not likely, the two sides are sequestered somewhere hammering out the details answering all of the above questions, and they are refraining from the nastiness reported here and elsewhere during the negotiations to get the MLB 2020 season underway.
But having witnessed the posturing of MLB and the MLBPA over the years, I’m more inclined to think neither side wants to deal with any of this now -choosing instead to kick the can down the road for the “real thing” commencing in December and beyond.
Even though the bitter and counterproductive arguments that consumed these and other media columns during the efforts to get the 2020 season underway are likely to resurge their ugly heads again.
What remains, however, is that owners, teams, and players cannot enter the MLB 2021 season with a blind eye.
The rules of the game are essential to the integrity of the game, and as difficult as it may be to wade through the unknown of the upcoming MLB 2021 season, it’s imperative that we set the ground rules for as many of these unanswered questions as we can – ASAP.
Just as we are finding at the national level of our government and people, it’s not easy to bring two inherently divided sects together.
Beyond our reach as a common person, whether it be the survival of our Republic in these trying times or our National Pastime, the future of each is at stake.
Sadly, as in the case of Washington, it’s better if we as fans strap ourselves in for a long and protracted battle, with a mish-mash of quasi-solutions that are reached for the near future and the MLB 2021 season.
Meanwhile, it might be best to cling to that age-old call we remember and gave us safety and contentment as a kid to, “Play Ball”.