Latest news on MLB’s plans for the 2021 season


Credit: MLB Logo

As the start date for spring training approaches, Major League Baseball plans to proceed with the usual 162-game schedule with some modifications, thanks to Covid-19.  According to current plans, games in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues will begin on February 27, with the San Diego Padres’ first game scheduled for the following day.

Leading into spring training in 2020, no one anticipated the fallout from a deadly virus initially identified in China.  The first case in the United States traces back to an American who had visited China and returned to Washington.  By early February, though, a growing number of cases cropped up around the country.  On March 12, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred canceled the rest of the spring schedule and delayed the March 26th Opening Day by at least two weeks.   Other sports leagues also acted, including the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Soccer.

On July 6, after months of uncertainty and debate between the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association, Manfred finally announced a 60-game schedule coupled with health and safety protocols.  However, outbreaks did occur and affect multiple teams’ schedules, including the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins.

Flash forward to January 2021, MLB appears poised to throw caution aside and go for it.  No doubt, teams, and to a lesser extent players, decrying their financial losses affected the decision.  According to Manfred, teams accrued debt estimated at $8.3 billion and operational losses between $2.8 billion to $3 billion last year.

At the beginning of 2020, none of us could have imagined that the United States would become the epicenter of a pandemic and lead the world in deaths.  As of January 24, more than more than 2,000,000 have died worldwide, including 429,000 in the U.S.  Blindsided in 2020, Manfred and company have had more than a year to plan.  So far, though, full speed ahead appears to be the guiding strategy.

As of today’s plan, baseball games will begin April 1, with the Padres facing the Arizona Diamondbacks at Petco Park.  Unlike last year, fans will likely be allowed into the ballpark.  According to MLB’s directive, tickets will be sold in pods allowing space for social distancing.  Fans must wear masks except when they are drinking or eating.  The league will not require that fans be tested or vaccinated for the virus.

The teams themselves will be responsible for their own protocols regarding player testing and vaccinating.  However, MLB must review and approve those plans.  Unfortunately, vaccinations will not be available to everyone anytime soon.  The first wave has been limited to people on the front lines, including health care workers and by age.  Obviously, healthy young males do not make the cut and will not for the foreseeable future.  However, last year MLB managed to obtain test kits despite a nationwide shortage.

According to the latest information, the league and players association have not reached agreements regarding the rule changes introduced during the mini-season of 2020, including doubleheaders of seven innings rather than nine, a runner on second in extra innings, and the universal designated hitter (a favorite of players).  The continued bickering centers on the almighty dollar rather than health concerns.

A return to the usual spring training and regular season schedules would especially benefit pitchers.  Baseball players —especially pitchers — tend to be creatures of habit.  No doubt, 2020’s shortened spring and regular schedule adversely affected pitchers physically and psychologically.

This year, thanks to general manager A.J. Preller’s non-stop wheeling and dealing, the Padres have a wealth of starting pitchers.  Preller has floated the possibility of utilizing a six-man rotation as the season will increase from 60 to 162 games.  Such a rotation would include Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Joe Musgrove, Chris Paddack, and Adrian Morejon with MacKenzie Gore and possibly Ryan Weathers waiting for a call-up.

Padres Wil Myers
Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

A normal spring training would allow pitchers to return to their normal routines and for the new players to meet and greet their teammates.  However, as the start date looms closer, warning signs abound.  Arizona, the Padres’ destination, has the highest infection rate in the country.   Florida’s death rate has reached a state high, and the averages of new cases exceed 2020’s numbers during the regular season.

The NBA and NHL continue to play in both states but not without Covid-19 related setbacks.  Multiple games have been postponed, and players continue to test positive.  In the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes’ games have been postponed at least through the end of January, and training facilities have been closed.  The NBA announced that security officials would enforce social distancing directives before and after games.  Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves revealed last month that he’d lost seven family members, including his mother, to the virus.

In December, MLB reportedly approached the union with a plan to push back the start of the season by a month, but the debate centered on pay and a return to the 162-game schedule rather than health.  Last year players did generally stick to health and safety protocols.  Testing, which began July 6, 2020, and continued through the World Series, yielded 92 positive tests (58 players and 34 staff).

As was the case last year, most players, except those with pre-existing conditions, do not fall into high-risk groups.  However, some managers, umpires, coaches, and front-line staff do have higher levels of risk.  With the league backing out of pandemic management, teams will have to step up to protect everyone involved.  As a two-time cancer survivor and a diabetic, Padres’ chairman Peter Seidler will be well aware of the dangers of a deadly virus.  Teams and players themselves will have to pick up the slack in the void left by Major League Baseball.

Cactus League director Bridget Binsbacher recently asked Manfred to delay the start of spring training for obvious reasons.  The mayors of the spring training venues, including Peoria, the Padres’ home, joined with her.  However, so far, no changes have been made to the schedule.

Obviously, the situation will be subject to change.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
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Tony C
Tony C
1 year ago
Reply to  Diane Calkins

It is about the money. It’s ALWAYS about the money. Players don’t want to reduce the season because they don’t want a second season of prorated salaries. I’m sure if they offered a 60 or 120 game season with full salary… they’d be all in.

The ONE constant through all of MLB and the Players Association is that none of their decisions are about fans. NONE, we’re just wallets to them.

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Tony C

Hello Tony,
Definitely a “show me the money” vibe. I am old enough to remember when Tony Gwynn turned down bigger contracts and was proud to say he had played for one team in one town and said it proudly.
I guess love of the game and what it means to passionate fans is an old fashioned concept.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

Tanned Tom
Tanned Tom
1 year ago

Wouldn’t trust Manfred to tell me the time of day. The dumbest person in baseball since Bud Selig. He’s just being fatuous to keep saying there will be 162 games this year. 1 out of 100 Americans are infected, the virus is mutating, there are problems with getting the vaccine out there, how could anyone with even a room-temperature IQ think everything is alright?
His plan is to turn baseball into hockey where every crap team makes the playoffs. Moron.

Diane Calkins
Diane Calkins
1 year ago
Reply to  Tanned Tom

Hello Tom,
Although he basically ignored the steroid mess, Selig at least loved baseball. Unfortunately Manfred seems to care a whole lot more about money.
You nailed it with your reality check about the virus. Manfred is behaving as if we can just wave a fairy wand and move on. If only…
But I’m not impressed with the players’ union either as their focus is also on money. The first big test will be the start date of spring training.
You are fired up. I like it.

1 year ago

I cannot conceive of any way they play 162 games. And if they did, this would likely cause great harm to the pitchers (after playing 60-ish games). If they do try 162, or something like that, then it behooves everyone to have a permanent roster of at least 30 players (e.g. with 18 +/- pitchers) so that there is less and less risk for injury (perhaps this is what Preller knew would happen?). Why is the roster number not more of a prominent discussion? Or what am I missing (I get the money aspect, but this can be negotiated). Diane,… Read more »

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