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Elephant Rumblings: What will the 2021 MLB season look like?

MLB news roundup

Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game Three Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Good morning afternoon evening, Athletics Nation!

The 2020 Major League Baseball season was like none we’ve ever seen before due to the coronavirus pandemic, in all kinds of bad ways. It was much shorter, fans couldn’t attend the games, everyone’s schedules were limited to just a small handful of different opponents, teams occasionally had to stop playing for several days due to positive virus tests, and there was a whole set of new rules to take us further out of our comfort zones.

The pandemic isn’t over yet, though hope is at least on the horizon with a new vaccine ready for release. But it will take time for that vaccine to make its way around to everyone, or at least to enough people for the country to return to a semblance of normalcy. That means we can’t yet say for sure what the 2021 MLB season might look like.

A few days ago, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post shed some light on the earliest rumblings. He mentioned that the hope is for a season much longer than this past summer’s 60 games, but probably not all the way back to the usual 162. That also opens the question of whether to start spring training as normal and risk a stoppage like last March, or just push everything back by some amount of time and commit to a later start date.

On top of the scheduling, there’s also the question of the rules. All of the special emergency measures from 2020 are gone for now, and the players rejected a proposal to keep the universal DH in exchange for retaining the expanded 16-team playoff field. That means, if the season started today, we’d have pitchers batting in the NL again, and only 10 teams in the postseason, as well as normal extra-inning games and nine-inning doubleheaders. Of course, there’s still time for the two sides to change their minds on any of that.

On the topic of rules, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the following on Monday:

MLB instructed clubs in a memo last week to proceed under the assumption the DH will not be used in the NL this year, though few will complain if the league and union reach agreement to the contrary. Roster size is trickier. A team might be more inclined to make a Rule 5 pick if rosters will be at 28 for at least the start of the season.

Another question is whether teams would be limited to 13 pitchers on a 26-man roster, which was the original plan in a normal 2020 season. Some clubs are pushing for the flexibility to carry more than 13, contending they will need greater depth with starters ramping up from, say, 50 to 70 innings to 140 to 180.

It’s already tricky enough to build an MLB team during an offseason. But at least knowing the official rules would help, so hopefully these concepts get finalized sooner rather than later.

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