There will not be a designated hitter in the National League this season nor an extended postseason format, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association determined in their latest health and safety protocols, announced Tuesday.
As far as new rules are concerned for the 162-game season, slated to begin on April 1, seven-inning games at both ends of a doubleheader and extra innings beginning with a runner on second base will return for 2021.
Both were adopted during last year’s protracted 60-game season, when COVID-19 forced MLB to go on a four-month hiatus starting at the height of spring training on March 12.
A rule unilaterally adopted by MLB, that in most circumstances a reliever must face at least three batters, is also still in place. MLB active rosters for all 30 teams will be just 26 this season—down from 29—but there will be no limit on the number of pitchers.
Additionally, teams will be allowed to carry a taxi squad of five players on road trips in the case any active player tests positive for the coronavirus and must go on a 10-day quarantine. Players removed from active play because of COVID-19 do not have to be removed or replaced on the 40-man roster due to that occurrence.
“We were able to complete a successful and memorable 2020 season due to the efforts and sacrifices made by our players, club staff and MLB employees to protect one another,” MLB said in a statement. “The 2021 season will require a redoubling of those efforts as we play a full schedule with increased travel under a non-regionalized format.”
Though highly popular among fans, the DH in both leagues and a playoff format extended from 10 to 16 teams were left out because MLB chose to use one against the other as a bargaining chip. Last year, the DH was part of the health and safety protocols, and the expanded playoffs were adopted separately for economic issues.
There’s still time and room for negotiations on both fronts before the regular season begins, a source close to the deal, who asked to remain anonymous, told Sportico. Right now, the more traditional 10-team playoffs are still in place, with two Wild Card winners in each league joining the six division winners.
The current five-year Basic Agreement expires Dec. 1, and separate negotiations are anticipated on the nuances of those changes this summer.
Pitchers and catchers, followed shortly thereafter by position players, are expected to report to camps in Arizona and Florida next week, with exhibition games slated to begin in both states on Feb. 27.
“We have built on last year’s productive collaboration between MLB and the Players Association by developing an enhanced safety plan with the consultation of medical experts, infectious disease specialists, and experts from other leagues,” MLB said. “We all know the commitment it will take from each of us to keep everyone safe as we get back to playing baseball, and these enhanced protocols will help us do it together.”
Last season, MLB teams played their abbreviated seasons within their own regions, but this year the schedule will revert to its old format with teams traveling from coast to coast.
In an attempt to protect the players on the road during the regular season, the protocols stipulate that team personnel can’t leave the hotel, “other than for team activities at the team facility or ballpark, other than for medical reasons, outdoor walks/exercise, outdoor dining (if approved by a joint committee), or for other low-risk outdoor activities, or in extraordinary circumstances. Members of the traveling party must notify a club compliance officer before leaving the hotel.”
Last year, a number of teams had games postponed because of COVID-19, including the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, who were particularly hard struck. There were 47 regular-season games postponed but replayed as the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader.
MLB reported that 57 players tested positive during the regular season and one more—Justin Turner—at the end of the World Series, won by Los Angeles over Tampa Bay in six games.