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When will the 2021 MLB season start?

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Expect a winter of negotiations between owners and players.

Los Angeles Dodgers take on the San Francisco Giants during a MLB baseball game on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

As we sit here in mid-December, spring training theoretically starts in about two months. But the Dodgers haven’t yet announced reporting dates to Camelback Ranch, nor have other teams to their facilities.

We have a spring training schedule of games, and a regular season schedule in place. The Dodgers start Catcus League play on Feb. 27, and Opening Day is set for April 1, at Coors Field. But those dates seem tentative, at best.

Especially with recent news. Bob Nightengale at USA Today reported Tuesday that major league owners want to push back the start of the regular season to May:

“I don’t see a snowball’s chance in hell that spring training can start with protocols in place,’’ a National League owner told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. “I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to spring training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it.

Bob Klapisch of New Jersey Advanced Media the day before Thanksgiving reported much of the same:

Industry officials are growing increasingly worried that spring training will be delayed, which in turn will impact Opening Day. The insiders’ current guess is a 4-to-6 week hold-up. Camps wouldn’t open until mid-March. The regular season would be forced to wait until May, leaving room for only 130 or so games.

At issue is widespread access to the coronavirus vaccine, which was first administered in the United States this week. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that Americans without underlying conditions could receive the vaccine by May or June.

One would imagine MLB will find a way to jump the line in priority to get vaccines for its players and staffs, just as the league paid for access to frequent, rapid testing during the 2020 season that was not as readily available to the general public. But that’s not all that goes into the decision or 2021.

Starting a season before the vaccine is widely available would likely mean limited, or in some cases, no fans at MLB games at the start of the season. As we saw during the frustratingly long negotiations last summer, major league owners would rather cut off their own arms than play regular season games with no fans.

Owners last year used a negotiating tactic of picking a number they wanted to pay players — roughly a third of their salaries, maybe a little more — and kept submitting proposals to players with different variables that added up to roughly the same thing, until such time there wasn’t enough time left in the calendar but to play roughly the number of games that, at their pro-rated rate, would pay players roughly what the owners wanted all along.

The real money is in the postseason television contract, which was bumped even further with the addition of a wild card round in 2020.

The MLB Players Association chimed in, stating their desire to play a full season. From Evan Drellich at The Athletic:

“We’ve seen anonymous quotes attributed to club sources casting doubt on the start date and length of the season,” Bruce Meyer, the MLBPA’s senior director of collective bargaining and legal, said in a statement Tuesday. “To be clear, and as we’ve made clear to the league, players are planning on showing up for spring training on time for a full 162-game season as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement and the league’s previously issued schedule.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season, so the players and owners already have a contentious battle looming. But they can’t even agree now on something both sides reportedly want, the universal designated hitter. From Bill Shaikin last week at the Los Angeles Times:

The league put the concept of expanded playoffs on the table this fall, when the owners asked the union to consider a package deal: The designated hitter in both leagues would remain for 2021, and so would expanded playoffs.

The union suggested an immediate agreement on the DH alone, since the television revenue from an expanded postseason would be significant yet unknown. The owners shrugged and said no deal. They see the union as recalcitrant, resistant even to a pitch clock. The union wonders whether the owners are stalling on the DH as the market squeezes players, with general managers trying to build rosters and agents trying to pitch clients held hostage in the process.

This has already been a slow offseason, with very little action so far on the hot stove. Only eight of MLB Trade Rumors’ top 50 free agents have signed this offseason, plus two more who took the qualifying offer. It’s going to get even more interminable if the start of the 2021 season gets delayed, which seems more likely with each passing day.

So I put the question to you. When do you think Opening Day 2021 will be? The scheduled start date is April 1, which would mean a 162-game schedule. Using the Dodgers’ schedule, a May 1 start would mean 135 games, and June 1 would mean 108 games. It’s possible, should players and owners delay the start of the season, they could work out a new schedule, but just use those as rough guidelines for the potential length of the season.

Poll

When will the 2021 MLB season start?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    April 1
    (44 votes)
  • 5%
    April 15
    (18 votes)
  • 23%
    May 1
    (77 votes)
  • 28%
    May 15
    (94 votes)
  • 22%
    June 1
    (74 votes)
  • 1%
    June 15
    (5 votes)
  • 4%
    July 1
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (please mention in the comment)
    (2 votes)
330 votes total Vote Now