Ken Rosenthal reported for The Athletic that MLB sent a memo telling clubs to operate under the assumption that there would be no DH in the NL for 2021. That’s a little redundant since teams have pretty clearly already been doing just that, with the Cubs’ non-tender of Kyle Schwarber standing out as an example. Then there’s the simple fact that the universal DH was only a one-year deal as part of MLB’s implementation of a 60-game season.
Remember, the league and union never actually came to terms on an agreement that would have seen the DH and expanded playoffs in place for at least two years. The players understandably didn’t want to give ground and essentially pre-negotiate the next CBA, but by standing firm they have given the owners a cudgel with which to beat salaries down.
By delaying negotiations for the structure of the 2021 season, some of which is the result of the MLBPA working out the eight members of its executive subcommittee, owners can essentially suppress salaries for those players who might otherwise fill DH roles. That could eventually change as the two sides are set to resume conversations soon, according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. However, the MLBPA already rejected an offer that would bring the universal DH back in exchange for expanded playoffs.
The owners reap a far greater benefit from an extra round of playoffs since their national broadcast contracts for the postseason generate far more money than local rights. The league’s new deal with Turner Sports alone pays $535 million annually, then you add money from ESPN and FOX to the mix. Very little of that would end up in players’ pockets from the DH alone.
There’s also the matter of roster size, which was manipulated last season to accommodate the late restart of the season and protect pitchers. Going with bigger rosters for part or all of the season would impact how teams operate in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, though it’s hard to imagine the sides reaching an agreement on anything prior to December 10.
The other aspect to consider here is that this coming season will be the last under the current CBA. Players making concessions now doesn’t set a good precedent for them in the future, so they don’t want to give away what few remaining bargaining chips they have. It still seems likely to me that we’ll see the DH back in the NL for 2021, though I’m almost certain it’ll become permanent in ’22 and beyond regardless of what happens this winter.