MLB implemented a rule change in 2020 that had National League clubs playing with a designated hitter for the first time to ease impacts of playing in a pandemic. But that rule, at the moment, isn’t on track to stick around for 2021.
With the free agent market in limbo, the league is telling teams to proceed with offseason plans under the guidance that there will be no DH in the NL for 2021, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported.
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.
The memo is in line with a report by LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune in October. It is not a definitive ruling yet, and could change as MLB and the players union bargain over the terms of the season. The fate of the expanded playoff format used in 2020 is also unsettled.
Clubs are also dealing with questions about roster sizes for 2021 ahead of the Rule 5 draft on Thursday and that issue could be more complicated. The teams are reportedly pushing for the flexibility to carry more than 13 pitchers in the new season, per Rosenthal.
Will the universal DH come back to MLB?
The assumption of no universal DH for 2021 will likely be temporary.
MLB changed its DH rules for 2020 as one of many ways to make the season easier on teams. The schedule was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New rules consisted of an extra-innings rule that started every frame with a runner on second to shorten games; a new roster size to account for injuries and COVID-19 situations; and the expanded postseason.
The DH is a hot topic for the league, clubs and fans and with the collective bargaining agreement ending after the 2021 season, it could be a topic in negotiations. Players have reportedly been in favor of a universal DH for a while now. The change greatly benefited teams like the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs. The ultimate decision could influence where top free agents like Marcell Ozuna, Nelson Cruz and recent non-tender Kyle Schwarber land this offseason.
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