Sorting out Major League Baseball’s Rules for 2020

On Tuesday evening, Major League Baseball announced that the 2020 season will begin on July 23 or 24 and each team will play 60 games, with no fans in attendance. The target for the conclusion of the regular season is September 27.

The Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) made a companion announcement that all remaining issues have been resolved, while accepting the league’s health and safety protocols, and noting that players will report to camps.

Players are scheduled to arrive in their home cities starting on July 1 (pitchers and catchers first) with Spring Training 2.0 to begin on July 3. A limited number of exhibition games may be allowed near the end of camp.

Teams are expected to play 40 regular season games within their division and the other 20 vs. the same division in the other league. Natural rivals (the Royals and the Cardinals, for example) will meet six times. There are no double-headers planned, though that is likely the path to reschedule postponed games. However, this schedule is tentative until MLBPA approval and is slated to be released to the public on Friday, June 26.

Spring training rosters can include up to 60 players, including some or all of the 40-man roster. These 60 players must be identified by Sunday, June 28.

The season will open with 30-man rosters, dropping to 28 15 days later and the normal 26 at 28 days into the season. There is no mandated pitcher-position player split and no September expanded rosters. Per the March agreement, players will receive a full prorated portion of their annual salary based on team games played. This is approximately 37 percent of the full season (60/162).

Remaining players will train on a taxi squad in an alternate location (Springfield, MO for the Cardinals) with up to three taxi squadders allowed to travel with the MLB team on the road (must include one catcher). Taxi squad members will not receive MLB service time and will be paid salary at their minor league rate.

There will be a separate COVID-19 injured list of no minimum or maximum duration. The regular injured lists for all players will be 10 days and 45 days (rather than 60), respectively.

Players may opt out of the season if they are part of a high risk group and would receive salary and service time. If people the players live with or come into regular contact with are high risk and the player does not want to play, salary and service time will be a team judgment call, with an appeal process. Other players may also opt out, but will not be paid. Owners backed off an earlier request for players to sign an “acknowledgement of risk” form which would have limited MLB’s liability.

MLB has the right to relocate teams to neutral site locations due to health and safety concerns, including in the post-season.

Following pre-camp screening, temperatures and symptoms will checked at least twice daily. All Tier 1 individuals, including all uniform personnel as well as trainers and strength coaches, will take saliva tests every other day. All others will be tested multiple times weekly. Anyone who tests positive will be quarantined and two negative tests will be required prior to return.

Players will be prohibited from arriving at the ballpark more than five hours prior to game time and staying longer than 90 minutes afterward. Reporters must leave the ballpark within one hour upon conclusion of post-game interviews.

The health and safety protocols also indicate that spitting, smokeless tobacco and sunflower seeds are prohibited. So are high fives, fist bumps and hugs. Fighting is also expressly prohibited, with threats of “severe discipline”.

Pitchers licking their fingers is prohibited. They will be permitted to carry a “wet rag” in their pocket to moisten their fingers.

Rule changes for 2020 only include a runner placed on second base to open all extra innings (to shorten extended games in the regular season only) and the universal designated hitter, with the latter oddly implemented as a health and safety matter.

The trade deadline will be August 31, with post-season eligibility based on rosters as of September 15. There will be no expanded playoffs, with the standard 10-team structure continuing for 2020.

Radio broadcasters will permitted to attend road games, but television crews are not expected to travel, and would call games from a neutral video feed provided by the home network. Reporters will be allowed in ballparks, but player access is expected to be via video chat.

Potential grievances to be filed by players and owners would occur in the background and not disrupt 2020 play. The MLBPA may take exception to the season being shorter than possible while the owners may claim bad faith in the negotiations.

As part of the health and safety protocols, MLB is separating personnel into three tiers:
Tier 1 – Players, coaches, trainers, doctors, physical therapists
Tier 2 – Clubhouse attendants, Baseball Operations employees, PR staff, groundskeepers, security
Tier 3 – Replay crew, cleaners, camera operators, reporters

Tier 1 – All-access
Tier 2 – Access to restricted areas but must keep distance from Tier 1 people and wear PPE
Tier 3 – No access to restricted areas – cannot exceed 150 people

Important disclaimer: There have been no formal announcements of most of these items. The comments here are summarizing multiple social media entries from media members and could include inadvertent errors. Updates will be made as required.

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