With COVID-19 still raging across the country and vaccine rollout being much slower than perhaps was expected, Major League Baseball is talking with the players association once again to try and change some of the rules for games in the 2021 season. The universal designated hitter, as well as the 7-inning double headers and runner starting on second base in extra-innings rules are on the table. All of these rule changes need to be approved by the MLBPA. Bob Nightengale of USA Today was the first to report this.
In 2020 we saw the National League adopt the designated hitter for one season. For the Cincinnati Reds that worked out about as well as possible because it allowed a crowded outfield that would have otherwise led to some problems finding enough playing time for everyone. Manager David Bell, however, used the designated hitter role to place Jesse Winker into the lineup nearly every day. If it returns for the 2021 season it would likely help the Reds more than most other teams in the league.
The double-header games being 7-inning affairs is new to the Major Leagues, but they’ve been happening in the minors for a long time. As noted above, with vaccine rollout being a bit slower than expected, there could still be some postponements and rescheduled games during the season. While the plan is for a full season, and that would give teams more chances to spread out make up games, it’s better to have a plan that works than trying to make it up as you go. If a team needs to make up too many games later in the year, a 7-inning double header set is going to help keep the team’s pitching staff from being overworked, hopefully.
Perhaps the biggest issue that is being discussed is the expansion of the playoffs. This issue is a big deal because during the playoffs an overwhelming majority of the money made goes to the teams and not to the players. With more games and more rounds, there is more television money coming in and the players, rightfully, want their share of that. The owners are trying to trade the universal designated hitter, which the players want, for expanded playoffs on the same terms as they stand now, which doesn’t share a proportional share of revenue, which the players don’t like. This all feels like early collective bargaining agreement negotiations, which aren’t expected to be a friendly negotiation following the 2021 season.