Are You Ready for More Fun Player-Owner Negotiations About Money and Rules?

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Are You Ready for More Fun Player-Owner Negotiations About Money and Rules?

Chicago Cubs

We recently discussed the need for teams to know very soon what the “new rules” are or are not going to be heading into next year if they’re to proceed this offseason. The postseason field, the size of rosters, Designated Hitter, the game play rules, etc. – all that stuff, which changed for 2020, could potentially impact the way a team crafts its roster this offseason. So teams need to know what’s staying and what’s going.

Of course, they can’t know much of that stuff for certain until an agreement is in place between the players and the owners to govern the 2021 season (to the extent anything needs to change from what is already controlled by the Collective Bargaining Agreement). We can only hope such negotiations won’t be a repeat of what we saw this summer.

For now, there are no negotiations that we’re aware of, so there is still no certainty on the various rules. But MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about what he’d like to see done, and MLBPA Chief Tony Clark responded, so we maybe start to have some idea of what’s more or less likely?

For his part, Manfred has increasingly focused on two of the new rules he most wants to see stay in 2021: expanded postseason and the runner-on-second rule. On the latter, he simply says it didn’t prove to be as hated as many fans feared, and the players prefer the health/risk benefits of not having marathon extra-innings games.

As for the expanded postseason, we know that the owners want it, since it’s a huge revenue boost.

“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred told the AP. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year. I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season. But I think something beyond the 10 that we were at would be a good change.”

Manfred has alluded to that idea before, and you’ll recall that MLB wanted postseason expansion before this past season – they wanted something more like 14 teams, as opposed to 16 (which was sold as being necessary because of the shortened season). If you can get the incentives right – it’s still very important to win your division, and it’s still worth it to have the best record, for examples – then I remain on board with going to 12 or 14 teams.

This year’s expanded postseason, however, was a one-year special agreement with the players, and 2021 is currently dictated by the final year of the current CBA. Which is to say, a new deal with the players would be necessary to have expanded playoffs in 2021.

Rightly, Clark is holding onto that leverage, telling the AP, “We made a number of one-year changes this season under unique circumstances. We are gathering feedback from players and we’ll bring that to the league at the appropriate time. Obviously, protecting health and safety will remain among several important considerations as those talks unfold.”

Clark is referring to all possible one-year rule changes, knowing that additional negotiations are to come. That is going to include the Designated Hitter in the NL for next year, on which Manfred declined to offer his opinion (likely because owners are mixed on it). We know the players generally favor it. The players would also probably favor expanded rosters, but Manfred indicated the 28-man roster (expanded from what was supposed to be 26 this year) was a special circumstance related to the broken up Spring Training.

So, then, teams are probably going to start this offseason somewhat in the lurch. Best guesses? I think teams can probably anticipate the extra-innings rule will stick, and that rosters will go back down to 26. I think they can probably best guess that a deal will get done on expanded playoffs eventually (though probably 12 or 14 teams), and I think they might have to flip a coin on the Designated Hitter until an actual deal is done between the league and the players.

Is that enough uncertainty to slow all offseason movement? Probably not. There are dates and deadlines, after all. But when you combine it with the obvious financial uncertainty tied to fan attendance next year? And the fact that these owner-player negotiations might contemplate a whole lot of issues? Well, in that case, I’m much less optimistic now that we’ll see too much player movement right away, outside of the stuff that is dictated by those dates and deadlines. It’s possible we don’t see much movement at all until after the November 20 rostering deadline, or maybe not even until after the December 2 non-tender deadline. Here’s hoping the owners and players have somehow, magically, been able to put another short-term agreement in place by then.

(But do you really expect that? Given that it might also have to include negotiations on hypothetical season reduction and pay cuts if fans aren’t permitted back by X date? … ugh … it’s gonna be an ugly thing again, I just know it … )

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.