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Spring training & roster highlights from MLB health & safety protocols

A closer look at 2021 operating rules

MLB Considers Arizona Minor League Stadiums For Possible 2020 Season Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The headliners from the health and safety protocols agreed upon by MLB players and owners on Monday was the renewal of seven-inning doubleheaders and the extra-inning rule with a runner on second base to start each additional frame. But there are several other notable rules set forth in the 2021 operations manual.

Spring training

MLB officially announced starting dates for all 30 teams on Tuesday. For the Dodgers, which we reported a week and a half ago, pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona on Wednesday, Feb. 17, with the first workout for that group one day later. The Dodgers’ first full-squad workout is set for Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Once games get started — for the Dodgers on Feb. 27 — pitchers will be able to reenter games if a manager decides to do so. For the first two weeks of spring training, through March 13, the defensive manager can end an inning before a third out at his discretion, as long as the pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. The three-batter minimum rule for pitchers will be in effect for games starting March 14.

For those first two weeks of spring training, games can be shortened to seven or five innings if both managers agree to do so. For spring games starting March 14, both managers can agree to shorten games to seven innings.


Spring training rosters are capped at 75 total players, including non-roster invitees and any rehabbing players. This isn’t a prohibitive number, considering most years feature big league camps with player totals in the 60s. The initial rosters are due to MLB at 1 p.m. PT Friday, Feb. 12, and can be modified throughout the spring, provided the total doesn’t exceed 75 players.

On opening day, April 1, 26-man major league rosters are due at 9 a.m. PT, as well as 28 players on the Triple-A or alternate training site list. All players who are in major league spring training but not one of of these two lists will remain at the team’s spring training facility.

MLB teams will have 26-man rosters through the end of August, then 28-man rosters in September. Just like in 2020, there won’t be a limit on the number of pitchers that can be included on the active roster (a rule was instituted prior to the 2020 season with a 13-pitcher limit, but that was before the pandemic hit).

For reference, there was no 26-man rosters in 2020, but the Dodgers played 45 games with a 28-man roster last year, opting for 12 position players and 16 pitchers in 15 of those games, and 13 position players in 30 games.

Another temporary rule continued from last year is 10 days on optional assignment or injured list for pitchers, instead of 15.

If an situation pops up like last year when the Marlins had to add a double-digit number of players to fill in for players sidelined by COVID-19, a team might find some relief. From the operations manual, if a team experiences a commissioner-determined “significant number” of players on the COVID-19 injured list, they will be able to add replacements to the active roster on a temporary basis (i.e. not requiring a 40-man roster move), and they be sent back to the minors without requiring waivers.

On the road

Five-player taxi squads, including at least one catcher, will be allowed on road trips. Those players won’t receive service time if not activated, and can’t be in uniform or in the dugout (or bullpen, except for the extra catcher) during games, but they do get major league per diem of $110 per day on the road trip.

Folks in a team’s traveling party will be allowed to leave the hotel for outdoor exercise, or to pick up food, unlike last year. They can also outdoor dine, “but not at a bar, lounge, club, casino or like environment.”

During spring training and the season, whether at home or on the road, no indoor restaurant dining is allowed, nor is any indoor gathering of more than 10 people, no bars, lounges, clubs, gyms, casinos or similar establishments are allowed.

With team approval at least 20 days in advance, folks in the traveling party are allowed to stay in their own house instead of the team hotel as long as only their immediate family lives there, and said inhabitants quarantine in-house for at least five days leading up to the visit.


Immediately before reporting to spring training, as part of the intake process, all players and staff must quarantine at home for five days.

Players and staff must wear Kinexon tracking devices, which have been used in the NBA and NFL, at all times during team activities, including team travel, with the data strictly to be used only for contact-tracing purposes. Players and staff can be subject to discipline for “repeated failure” to wear and/or place the devices in the proper docking stations.

All on-field personnel must wear masks over their nose and mouth at all times while in the dugout and bullpen, save for pitchers and catchers who are warming up. All non-playing personnel must wear masks on the field at all times, and after two written warnings for not doing so, players can be fined for $150 per each subsequent violation.

The commissioner by March 17 will decide whether the Triple-A season will start on time. If the start of the Triple-A season is delayed, players on the Triple-A list will instead report to an alternate training site until said season begins. This year, with commissioner approval, exhibition games between different teams might be allowed at alternate training sites.