Fans of the universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs will have to wait a bit longer before the rule changes return to Major League Baseball—if they ever do.
According to The Athletic's Evan Drellich, both proposals are "dead" for the 2021 season. Pitchers will return to the batting order in the National League this season while the postseason field stands pat at 10 teams. The two items are expected to become major bargaining points next offseason with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire this December.
No date has been set for initial negotiations.
Drellich noted MLB questioned the fairness of bringing back the universal DH with spring training already underway. Some of the free agents who would have benefited most from the NL bringing back the designated hitter—Nelson Cruz, Marcell Ozuna, Kyle Schwarber—appeared to wait out a decision on the matter before signing, but the market for big bats has since been depleted, unlike last year when the season went on hiatus before the rule change was announced for health and safety reasons.
Not all executives agree with the reasoning.
"I don't buy that argument," an NL GM told Drellich. "We had a DH last year so some NL teams were prepared for that again."
As for the postseason, the argument from the players association begins with a fear of disincentivizing teams from spending more in free agency, though MLB believes additional playoff slots would create more competition.
Per Drellich, there's another major financial component at play as well:
"Major League Baseball would have received a $100 million credit from ESPN for the expanded postseason, a source said, because MLB didn't play enough games in 2020 to fulfill the package of games ESPN paid for. Naturally, owners wanted that influx of money. But the players felt the incentives were not there. Last year, players, like owners, were losing a large chunk of money simply because fewer games were played. In addition, the players' postseason earnings are predicated on fan attendance, which they knew last year would be minimal at best. But this year, players feel more comfortable that come playoff time, fans will be in the stands and they'll receive a substantial haul from the gate; the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines allows for optimism."
Both changes are expected to become major points of negotiation when collective bargaining begins this fall. While the 2021 season might not feature either, there's chance both return in 2022.