Major League Baseball has proposed delaying the start of the 2021 season and shortening it to 154 games, but the MLB Players Association appears unlikely to accept the change.

MLB regular season delay
Major League Baseball is proposing a delay to spring training and the regular season, but players appear unlikely to accept the change. (Image: Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Under the MLB proposal, spring training would start in late March, with the regular season beginning in late April.

League Proposes Universal DH, Expanded Playoffs

Players would still earn their full 162-game salaries for the shortened season. However, the union has expressed concerns that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred could still suspend the season due to COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a USA Today report.

The proposal also includes a universal designated hitter, as well as an expanded 14-team postseason format.

It seems possible that the players could agree to some of these proposals before the start of the regular season. But all indications are that a delay to Opening Day or a shorter schedule remain non-starters.

Each of the league’s ideas comes with some downside for players. A universal designated hitter shifts some roster positions to lower-paying jobs. The expanded postseason would make it easier for teams to make the playoffs, which could, in turn, reduce the incentives for clubs to splash cash for big-money free agents.

The MLBPA has raised the most issues with the modified regular-season proposal. Players point to the fact that they were able to complete a 60-game season last year – albeit with a few COVID-19 outbreaks – to suggest that they’ll be able to play a full season in 2021, especially if teams conform to strict protocols.

There are also concerns over how pitchers would handle delaying the season. Pitchers have already begun their preseason ramp up toward being ready for spring training in mid-February. If they shut down now, then pick up their preparations in time for a March 22 training camp, that could cause injuries. The delayed season would also include fewer rest days, again raising the prospect of injury issues.

MLB Season Changes Could Impact Betting Odds

Why delay the season at all? MLB officials see the option as a way to allow COVID-19 rates to fall throughout the country as spring returns and more Americans are vaccinated. Rates in Arizona – some of the highest in the nation – are also a concern, as half of MLB teams hold their spring training camps in the state.

Bettors will want to pay attention to how the league and the MLBPA resolve these issues. A longer season with the standard 10-team playoff format favors the best teams, which should shorten odds on elite clubs like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.

Changing the season would shift those dynamics. A shorter season adds more volatility to the results, though a 154-game season isn’t dramatically different than the 162-game schedule in this regard.

The expanded playoffs are more relevant, as they provide additional paths for second-tier teams to make the postseason, at which point anything is possible. Fewer rest days would also put an increased emphasis on depth, as injuries, platoons, and healthy scratches would all become more common.

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