The universal designated hitter will be a one-year experiment ... for now. Major League Baseball will reportedly revert to using the designated hitter solely in the American League in 2021, according to LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune.
That long-standing rule was altered in 2020 as MLB played through the coronavirus pandemic. National League teams played with the designated hitter for the first time, and teams like the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs benefitted greatly from that change.
The universal DH was among the many changes MLB made in 2020 in an effort to make things easier on teams during the coronavirus pandemic. The league introduced a new extra-innings policy as a way to shorten games, adjusted roster sizes to account for injuries or COVID-19 situations and expanded the postseason to account for teams who lost out on wins due to the virus. The universal DH wasn’t embraced by every fan, but it wasn’t as controversial as starting a runner on second base in extra innings.
The universal designated hitter might not be gone for long
While the universal DH is on the way out in 2021, it might return sooner than expected. The collective-bargaining agreement ends following the 2021 season, and the universal DH is expected to be a topic in negotiations.
The players have reportedly been in favor of that change for some time.
Universal DH proposed by MLB is expected to be easily approved by players, who long favored idea. It won’t impact finances in ‘20 but could boost pay for select few in ‘21 based on better stats. Teams helped: Dodgers (great depth), Nats (same), Brewers (Braun), Mets (Cespedes?)
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 13, 2020
Given how little baseball changed in 2020 with a universal DH, the topic might be one of the least contentious issues facing the union and the owners. Other rule changes — such as implementing a pitch clock — should bring more fierce arguments from the union. On top of that, the union could push for changes to service time, try to crack down on service-time manipulation, go after the luxury tax, argue in favor of a salary floor or negotiate a living wage for minor-league players. It’s no guarantee any of those issues will get brought up by the union, but all of them would elicit a stronger reaction from the owners than the universal DH.
Because of that, the owners could relent on the universal DH as a negotiating tactic to make the union feel it is getting something it wants in negotiations. That won’t singlehandedly solve all of baseball’s labor issues, but it’s an easy place to start.
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