With the offseason approaching all the more rapidly now that we’re into the World Series, I am increasingly thinking about any rules changes that might come to baseball – or stay in baseball – for the 2021 season.
I do get that it’s hard to say for sure what rules will stick for next year when we don’t know what the sporting landscape will be. Just this morning I was noting the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country, and as much as it’ll annoy you/scare you/whatever, it’s not at all impossible that there will be another ugly and protracted negotiation between the owners and the players about what 2021 can look like financially. That negotiation will probably involve various rules.
So, again, I get why nothing has yet been settled.
But here’s the rub – or at least the chicken and the egg problem – teams are going to need to know what the rules are going to be before they engage in too much of their offseason transacting. Look no further than just ONE of the possible rules (the Designated hitter), and no further than just ONE team we pay a lot of attention to (the Cubs and Kyle Schwarber, for example), and you can see quickly how the rules could fundamentally change how a team might proceed in the coming months.
Other rules that we saw in 2020, if extended into 2021, could impact offseason maneuverings, too. If the extra-innings rule persists, might you think about your bullpen and bench construction slightly differently? If 28-man rosters persist, might you reconsider players you’re protecting from the Rule 5 Draft? If the playoffs are to be expanded – somehow? differently than 2020? – in what ways do you restructure your offseason pursuits to go for a bye or not?
Commissioner Manfred has indicated that he believes the extra-innings, runner-on-second rule is likely to stick around, given that the reception around baseball was not as chilly as some predicted. He’s expressed a mixed opinion on the DH, though unringing that bell for the long-term seems very difficult at this point (maybe it goes away for 2021, but then is back in 2022 with the new CBA). He wants an expanded postseason beyond the old 10 teams, but not as many as the 16 we saw this year.
Even knowing some of his opinions, though, doesn’t really help us answer the questions on how and when MLB is going to make these rules determinations. As I opened, how do you even settle these rules without knowing whether the entire structure of the 2021 season is going to be pandemic-impacted again? The two topics are heavily related, as are finances and fan attendance. All that stuff is just so very up in the air right now.
Does that mean we’ll just see teams doing a lot of standing pat early on in the offseason, hoping that each day brings more clarity? Even if so, options decisions are due, rostering deadlines come November 20, and the tender deadline is December 2. Teams and players cannot wait forever to make their decisions.
I hope, and tentatively expect, that as soon as the World Series concludes, there will be steps taken to at least START having these discussions immediately at the league level.