MLB reaches deal with players union on key 2021 rules, but …

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An agreement reached by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association Monday night does not include a universal designated hitter for 2021.

The agreement does include rule changes from last season: seven-inning doubleheaders and a runner on second base to begin extra innings. Neither rule is necessarily permanent, but both are viewed as ways to reduce injury and health risks during the pandemic. It is also expected that teams will carry 26 players on their rosters (rather than 25) and expand to 28 in September.

The league does not regard the universal DH in the same way. Its position is that the universal DH benefits the players monetarily and should be a trade-off for something else. To this point, that something else has been playoff expansion.

Despite the league's position, at this point the universal DH should be viewed as a health and safety protocol just like shortened doubleheaders and extra innings. Think about how long it's been by now since pitchers have had to hit or had to hustle down the first-base line to beat out a play. Given the time off from those activities, you could easily see some injuries pop up for pitchers, a la Charlie Morton tearing a hamstring running to first base early in his lone season as a Phillie.

As of now, the playoff field will be 10 teams, just as it was in 2019. Last season, the field grew to 16. 

There are several reasons the players are hesitant to trade a universal DH for playoff expansion. 

  • They don’t think it’s a fair trade-off, with playoff expansion benefitting the league much more than a universal DH benefits a select few players. 
  • They don’t want to give up a crucial bargaining chip like playoff expansion the season before negotiations will take place on the next collective bargaining agreement.
  • There is a belief on the players union’s side that expanding the playoffs will result in fewer teams spending aggressively in free agency because a playoff berth could be obtained with 83-85 wins rather than 88-89.

Things could change before the regular season begins on April 1. You’ll recall that last season, the sides reached an official agreement pertaining to postseason expansion on July 23, the day before the regular season began. There is still time for more negotiating.

"I don't think this is the ultimate deal, the final deal," Jim Salisbury said on Tuesday's Phillies Talk podcast. "I think both of those items are still on the table and we could see both."

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