The two top concerns for MLB teams this offseason–the state of player relations and the shape of the 2021 MLB season–are colliding as the commissioner’s office and player reps begin talks about next year and how it will look.
For the most part, MLB leaders and team execs seek flexibility on when the season starts and its length. Right now MLB has released both spring-training and regular-season schedules, with spring training launching mid-February and the regular season on April 1. That flexibility could see the season drop to 140 or 120 games, beginning in May. The concerns are obvious: it may take that long before COVID-19 mitigation battles bring down contagion rates, paving the way for local health officials to approve partially opened ballparks.
Players, for their part, want to see a full season with full pay. Their argument: they gave up a lot to successfully play the 2020 season, albeit in empty ballparks, and that empty ballparks in many markets would work just fine for them. From USA Today:
MLB and the union have begun negotiations in an attempt to resolve their differences over issues in the game, but not over the season length. MLB simply can’t shorten the 2021 season without approval by the union and union officials have told their players to assume there will be a 162-game season and show up on the scheduled time in spring training.
If they continue to disagree on the season’s length, it’s unknown whether MLB has the stomach for another labor dispute in the final year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires Dec. 1, 2021.
There are a whole slew of smaller issues on the table, such as whether the DH will be used in the National League in 2021. But make no mistake: much of what happens in the next month or so regarding 2021 will really be a precursor to the tone and parameters of the next labor deal.
There are, of course, cascading effects to these talks. Cities hosting spring training already anticipate diminished crowds and increased spending on COVID-19 mitigation measures; here’s how one Florida community has already budgeted for spring training. A month delay probably won’t affect these plans that much. MLB has already hinted to team owners that the MiLB season may not begin until May or even Memorial Day; with the industry shut down for all of 2020, that sort of delay will be felt on the ledger sheets.