- Alden Gonzalez
Editor of ESPN
- Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams.
- Previously, he beat the Angels for MLB.com.
- Jesse Rogers
Editor of ESPN
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
Earlier this week, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association decided to reject an offer from the MLB that would have delayed the start of spring training and the regular season by a month.
Although the decision closed the door on a 154-game schedule that required players to pay for 162 games and suspended camp attendance until March 22 and the first regular season games until April 28, many questions remain about the status of spring training, the regular season and the proposed rule changes.
ESPN MLB journalists Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers were asked to explore the most pressing issues facing baseball as it tries to return to a full season in 2021 after a shortened 2020 season.
The groups are due to report in two weeks. What are the chances that spring training will start on time?
Rodgers: It looks more and more like camps will open on schedule, with pitchers and receivers expected on some teams as early as Feb. 16. Only two things can prevent that, and neither is likely to happen.
First, if local governments in Florida and Arizona believe that their communities should step back and invoke some sort of self-governance, then the clubs will not be able to operate under those conditions.
Another issue concerns health and safety protocols for players training all spring amid a lingering pandemic. Like last summer, the league and the players’ union will have to agree on how to ensure everyone’s safety and how often players should be tested, as well as protocols in the event of a positive test. It is likely that all agreements will be signed to ensure that camps will open on time under the conditions of last summer.
Gonzalez: Aside from the fact that local governments have such health and safety restrictions preventing teams from meeting in their facilities – don’t count on it, since the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes are fully operational and only partially present – it must be because the MLBPA has agreed to postpone the start of spring training.
The Cactus League does not have the authority to do so. Nor does the MLB, which respects the terms of the collective agreement and the long-announced schedule, have much wiggle room.
The events of last Monday, when the league rejected the league’s proposal to postpone the season, have made it clear that the players want the season to start on time. If they do not change their minds, that is exactly what will happen.
The regular season is currently starting on time, and what are the chances of that happening?
Yes. Like spring training, the regular season should start on time. However, April 1 is still two months away, so things can still change – especially with the pandemic now that negotiations for postponement are out of the question.
Since the other major sports leagues have been able to start their season, we can expect the same to happen in baseball – unless something serious and unforeseen happens.
Why did the MLBPA reject the MLB’s recent proposal for a 154-game season with a delayed start?
Rodgers: Simply put, the MLBPA had no reason to change the schedule. Pitchers have already gotten into the swing of things in mid-February, and don’t forget that teams are back to long games.
The last thing players want is a compressed calendar, and some even wonder if waiting a month for a pandemic won’t help at all. If so, they should follow health and safety protocols as they do now. The guarantee of a full salary in the league is the same as what players currently receive.
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Gonzalez: I would add that the post-season extension proved to be a major obstacle.
The other, which gives Rob Manfred additional authority to cancel or suspend games because of the ongoing pandemic, was clarified when the league suggested Monday that it change its wording on the issue.
But the MLBPA did not want a longer season, at least not this year. Many players believe that extending the playoffs would only further discourage teams from spending money, further diminishing baseball’s declining middle class. And, perhaps more importantly, the league does not want to set a precedent where extended playoff years become bargaining pawns for a new CBA, as it is potentially the league’s biggest bargaining tool. The view of one Union cynic: if it were really about health and safety, why include an extended postseason in the negotiations?
How much time do players really need to prepare for opening day?
Gonzalez: Substitutes don’t need many position players. The question is whether the starting pitchers have time to gain enough length to get safely into the rotation during the regular season.
A common theme among the players is that spring training is normally two weeks in a normal year. You can shave that off, and I don’t think you’ll hear many complaints. Some starters may not be at full strength in that case, but that can be accommodated by having more spots on the roster at the beginning of the season.
Last year there were too many injuries to pitchers, but many believe this was due to the spring break and the fact that “summer camp” was not long enough.
Will the MLB be guided by the fans in the stands during spring training and the regular season?
Wrong: The name of the film is not specified.Michael Reeves/Getty Images.
Rodgers: Fan attendance is determined by the local community, but clubs must submit a plan to the league office for approval, based on the recommendations of their medical experts.
Spring training is expected to begin with a limited number of fans throughout Florida and Arizona, depending on local approval. The Boston Red Sox have announced that they will have a 24% capacity for their games in Fort Myers, the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals have tickets on sale for spring training and the Arizona Diamondbacks. “The Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals are among the teams that have announced they will begin spring training with a limited number of fans.
Although it is too early to know what the crowd will look like during the regular season, the Rays are one of the teams that have announced a concrete plan – in their case, 7,000 fans who may travel to Tropicana Field – for the season opener in April.
Gonzalez: It will be intriguing after a year without revenue for fans, and it will be interesting to see how five California teams handle the extremely strict protocols resulting from the increase in COWID-19 cases after the holidays.
San Francisco Giants general manager Larry Baer took the first step in this direction, sending a letter to fans stating that the team “sees a way to welcome our fans back to Oracle Park.” The letter pointed to changes to the stadium entrance, food and beverage purchases made exclusively through the application, an “enhanced orientation program” that would allow fans to navigate the stadium within one meter and navigate from the main offices.
The Giants – and the A’s, Dodgers, Angels and Padres – have a long way to go. But at least we can get a glimpse of what a ballpark will look like in 2021.
Where is the current decision on the 2021 drum designation?
Rogers: Right now, that’s not the case. There will be no compromise of a post-season overtime for a designated hitter from Holland. That’s a given. That could change depending on how the spring unfolds.
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Suppose some teams, or even the entire Cactus or Grapefruit League, had to be shut down and pitchers cut off. DH could then be applied for safety reasons. It is even possible that these issues have not yet been resolved. But the league will not be content to give players 15 well-paying jobs without getting anything in return, unless it is required to do so.
How about expanding the playoffs? Could we see 14 or 16 teams in the postseason in October?
Rodgers: That’s a moot point at this point, unless something drastically changes that shortens the season, as was the case in 2020. For the players, this is an important negotiating point – not everyone thinks it’s a good idea – so it will be part of a broader discussion about the next collective agreement, which should be finalized before next season.
What do teams that don’t know the rules do in February?
Gonzalez: National league teams have largely acted on the perception that a designated hitter will not be introduced in the 2021 season simply because it is a safer approach.
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Further, crews are only hyper-focused on the greatest depth of corrosion possible (within the financial means of their owners, of course). A full season means a jump from 60 to 162 games, from a minimum of 510 innings to a minimum of 1,377 innings. Coaches, managers and medical personnel throughout the industry are extremely concerned about the risk of injury associated with such a large jump. At this time, there are no clear answers as to how this should be addressed.
What other rules remain unclear until 2021?
Rogers: As of now, the 2021 season will revert to the pre-2020 rules, except for the three-battery minimum that was permanently in place prior to the start of the pandemic.
However, there is still enough time before the start of the regular season to get seven doubles and a man on second base to start the overtime. Unlike DH and the extended season, these changes have no monetary component. Since a pandemic will likely affect games between April and October, the league and players will likely agree on rules to help close games.
Another thing to keep in mind: Games that begin and are delayed due to inclement weather are suspended regardless of when the delay occurs. This way, teams do not have to restart the game if they have played less than five innings.
This should all be arranged for opening day.
Frequently asked questions
When did MLB spring training begin?
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a big change in the 2020 Major League Baseball season, but 2021 won’t be ready yet. The sport “plans to start on time,” reports ESPN’s Jeff Passan, referring to the opening of spring training camp on February 17 and the opening day of the regular season on April 1.
Is spring training linked to the regular season?
So between the records of spring training and those of the regular season, it doesn’t matter in the short or long run whether you look at all the teams or just the extreme teams. And it’s actually pretty amazing when you think about it. After all, it’s the same teams playing every few months.
Why did spring training start earlier?
In Major League Baseball (MLB), spring training is a series of workouts and tryouts before the start of the regular season … Pitchers and receivers are the first to arrive at spring training because pitchers have a longer training period. A few days later, position players arrive and team workouts begin.