MLB and the MLBPA agreed to new health and safety protocols for the 2021 season Tuesday. As part of that agreement, 7-inning doubleheaders and the extra innings runner rule are here to stay in 2021.
MLB sent out a lengthy release announcing all of its protocols for the 2021 season. The memo covers how the league will handle health and safety, and how that will impact on-field play and roster moves.
As part of the agreement, MLB will test players and staff for COVID-19 "at least every other day." These will include PCR tests that collect saliva. Teams will also administer daily symptom screens and temperature checks twice a day. Teams will appoint Infection Control Prevention Coordinator and a Compliance Officer to make sure players and staff are adhering to guidelines.
What will happen if a player tests positive?
A player who tests positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days. They must be cleared by a joint committee and the team's physician before they can return to action. Players will also receive a "mandatory cardiac evaluation" during this period. In order to be cleared, players must no longer be at risk of spreading the virus.
Individuals who register as a close contact to a player who has tested positive will be required to isolate for 7 days. Those players must test negative for COVID-19 on or after Day 5 of their isolation in order to re-join the team. In order to determine close contacts, players will be required to wear tracking devices when with their clubs.
To try and prevent the spread of the virus, face coverings will be required in team facilities and in the dugout "other than for players on the field during a game or during pre-game warmups." Players will be fined for not adhering to those rules, with those fines going to charity.
How will MLB games be different in 2021?
Most, but not all, of MLB's on-field safety protocols from 2020 will return in 2021. The league will once again host 7-inning doubleheaders if games need to be postponed and rescheduled. In addition to that, the modified extra-innings rule will return. This means runners will start every half inning at second base if a game goes into extra innings. Both rules were utilized by the league last year as part of new health and safety protocols.
Notably, the memo makes no mention of the universal designated hitter. While that doesn't seem like a health and safety issue, the universal DH was included as part of last year's health and safety protocols. The issue's absence from the 2021 protocols doesn't guarantee there will not be a universal DH in 2021, but that seems to be the way MLB is leaning. If MLB and the MLBPA don't issue additional announcements regarding the universal DH, the issue will likely be discussed when the collective-bargaining agreement ends in December.
There will be no restrictions on position players being used as pitchers in 2021. Position players will be allowed to pitch during normal innings, not just extra innings. There are also no scoring restrictions on when position players can pitch. They can be used in any situation of any game.
What if a team experiences a COVID-19 outbreak?
MLB is trying to make things easier if a team exeperiences a COVID-19 outbreak in 2021. While rosters will sit at 26 players — and expand to 28 in September — the league will allow teams to carry five additional taxi squad players to use as replacements in case of an outbreak. Those players will not be subject to waivers or options if they are sent down once players return from a COVID-19 absence.
MLB's memo does not address how postponements will be handled in 2021. The St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins had entire series postponed as a result of COVID-19 outbreaks in 2020. Nearly every game was eventually played in 2020, with the exception of a two-game series between the Detroit Tigers and Cardinals. Those teams finished with 58 games played.
Unless MLB releases another memo, the league will likely proceed with a similar strategy for COVID-19 outbreaks in 2021.
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