Spring Training starts in about a month. The bulk of free agency is yet uncompleted. And at present, folks STILL don’t know for sure what the rules are going to be in 2021.
Sure, I mean, most of the rules will just be the normal baseball rules. But I’m talking about the modifications made to allow the 2020 season to be played during a pandemic, which, at last check, figured to still be a thing deep into this year’s season, too. I get that money is always THE issue, but at some point, the sides just have to step up and get a deal done for the good of the players, for the good of the sport, and for the good of MAYBE having a few months go by without some ugly public fight.
We know the financial implications of expanded playoffs, and the sides absolutely would have to figure out how to best apportion the money there. We know that having expanded rosters also comes with huge financial ramifications for both sides, so that’s gonna take some talking.
But there is one rule change that should just be done by now: MAKE A DECISION ON THE DESIGNATED HITTER.
It is absolutely absurd that teams and free agents have had to navigate the last three months without knowing for sure whether there would be a DH in the NL again next year. It impacted options decisions, tender decisions, trade decisions, and now free agent decisions. It impacts how teams think about their bench, their bullpen, and their pitching staff.
As Joel Sherman writes, we’ve passed the point where MLB owners can credibly argue that the DH is solely this huge financial advantage for the players, and they would otherwise have no interest in it. Everyone knows it is coming eventually, and it also could be an important matter of protecting player health this year. So Sherman’s suggestion is that the union simply find some modest “give” that MLB will accept in exchange for the DH (i.e., something much smaller than expanded playoffs):
The problem: MLB sees the DH as an item that the union wants because it has in the past been a well-paying job and, therefore, the union has to horse trade for MLB to install a universal DH. The union believes that MLB wants the DH also and why give up something when the other side might agree without needing to do that?
Here is why: 1. Pitcher safety. 2. To try to unlock a part of the free agent market. Full- or part-time DHs such as Michael Brantley, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion would improve their marketability if 30 teams were bidding rather than 15. The union does not want to give expanded playoffs that MLB wants for the DH. Fine. Be proactive for the good of your body — and especially pitchers’ bodies — and find something else that MLB will accept. Then MLB needs to accept. Because it is best for the product and health of the sport.
I don’t know that having the DH in place would fundamentally change the course of the Cubs’ offseason, but I’m sure even they would like to know what’s what as they survey the landscape of buy-low free agents. Teams and players just need to know what the rule is going to be already.
Hey, maybe new MLB consultant Theo Epstein can get something done.
Meanwhile, Jayson Stark gets back into the intriguing DH idea we’ve talked about before, harmonizing the rules between the American League and National League by tying the DH to the starting pitcher (when the starting pitcher goes out, you lose the DH):
My column: It's the DH idea America has been waiting for. So I asked a mgr, an exec, a pitcher & a DH to tell me what they thought.
They love it. They hate it. One of them even did both in the same conversation.
OK, your turn!https://t.co/wmKa0FSqe2
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 14, 2021