MLB Is Back: Here’s What You Need To Know

It has been a tumultuous road for baseball fans, but we have arrived. Nearly four months after the originally scheduled opening day in late March, the 60-game, 2020 MLB Season is set to kick off this Thursday night. The Nationals will host the Yankees, followed by the Giants in Los Angeles to face the Dodgers.

In late June the MLB announced that the owners unanimously voted to begin the season under the original March 26th agreement between the league and its player’s association. Players began arriving on the first of July to commence what would be known as “Summer Camp,” a three-week second attempt at Spring Training before the regular season begins on July 23rd. As the opener approaches and scrimmage and intrasquad shenanigans draw to a close, we are finally ready for meaningful baseball. Here is everything you need to know about the season:

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Regular Season

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The regular season will be 60 games. 40 of those games will be against divisional opponents (10 games against each team in your division). The remaining twenty games will be against your regional equivalent in the opposite league. For example, the AL West will play against the NL West. However, it will not be four games apiece against the five members of the division. Instead, you’ll play six games against your “natural” rival, four games against two teams, and three games against the remaining two teams. For example, the 2020 Minnesota Twins schedule is pictured on the right. Lastly, each team will receive six days off during the regular season and there will be no All-Star Break or All-Star weekend activities.

Playoffs

Hours before the season opener between the Yankees and the Nationals on July 23rd, the MLB announced an agreement between the league and the player’s association on expanded playoffs for the 2020 MLB season. The new structure will include 16 teams. The eight from each league will consist of the three division winners, the three second-place teams, and the teams with the next two best records. While the teams will be seeded one through eight, it is not yet determined how the seeding will be determined.

The expanded size of the playoffs will require the addition of the “Wild Card Series,” a best-of-three opening round that all 16 teams are included in. All of these games will take place at the home stadium of the higher-seeded team. The remainder of the playoffs will remain unchanged. The Divisional Series is a best-of-five series, while the League Championship Series and World Series are both seven-game series. Lastly, the agreement includes a $50 million bonus player pool for the playoffs, an increase over the $25 million offered in negotiations by the MLB prior to this agreement.

Rosters

To accommodate both safety protocols and potential team needs, there are significant changes to both the active roster and the “minor league” roster for the 2020 MLB season.

For starters, teams were asked to create a 60-man “Club Player Pool.” This 60-person roster is composed of the active roster, a three-person “taxi squad,” and a group of remaining players staying and continuing baseball operations within 100 miles of a team’s facility at an “Alternate Training Site.” These 60 players are the only ones eligible to participate in an MLB game during the 2020 season. Everybody else was sent home.

Active Roster

Teams will be permitted a 30-man active roster to begin the season. Two weeks after, teams must reduce their active roster to 28. Finally, teams must settle on a 26-man roster another two weeks later. It can also be noted that prior to the COVID-19 induced shutdown, the MLB raised the active roster limit to 26 from 25. Additionally, there will be no “expanded roster” from September call-ups this season. Lastly, for a player to be eligible to participate in the postseason, they must be on the active roster by September 15th (normally this date is August 31st).

Taxi Squad

The “taxi squad” is a group of three players that will travel with the team and stay game-ready in the event of the immediate need. This would presumably be in the event that a few players are shut down abruptly for COVID-19 related reasons. Teams are allowed to switch out who is on their taxi squad at any time, and they can be any combination of players of any position. However, they are not permitted to play in games that have started because they are not on the active roster. While a team is in their home city, they’ll participate in baseball activities with the remaining members of the 60-man player pool at the alternate training site.

Remaining players on 60-man player pool

Everyone on the 60-man player pool but not on the active roster will continue baseball activities at the alternate training site for the remainder of the season. The 3-person “taxi squad” will travel with the team, but everybody else stays behind. There are two primary purposes for these players. The first is to keep a group of players game-ready in the event that a team needs to call somebody up from the minors. The idea here is that these players can join the team without the need for commercial air travel. The second reason is to allow teams to maintain in-person coaching and training for prized prospects rather than sending them home until next season.

This structure might incentivize competing teams to load their 60-man pool with major-league ready depth players, as opposed to prioritizing raw prospects for teams that don’t expect to compete. For example, the Miami Marlin’s 21-year-old third-overall 2020 draft choice Max Meyer is in their 60-man player pool. At no point would the Marlins expect Meyer to play in the big leagues this year. However, they didn’t want to draft him and send him home. Instead, they’ll keep him in Miami during the season and allow him to receive coaching and play in simulated games. Meanwhile, a team such as the Yankees or Dodgers might want to ensure they have MLB-capable depth players to call up in case of an injury or a COVID-19 IL stint.

40-man Roster

You might be wondering how the regular 40-man roster fits into all of this. For starters, almost all 40-man roster players are included in all 60-man club player pools. However, it isn’t a complete necessity. Any player on the 40-man roster not included in their club’s player pool this season will still be paid.

In addition, the general rules of the 40-man roster still apply. A player can be on the 60-man roster at the alternate training site without being on the 40-man roster. However, for a player to be added to the active roster, they must first be added to the 40-man roster. Removing a player from the 40-man requires their contract to be designated for assignment, a release, a trade, or a 60-day Injured List placement.

Everybody Else

As mentioned earlier, everybody else was sent home. This includes all organizational players and staff members not apart of the major league staff or 60-man player pool.

In theory, these players could be called upon if a spot on a 60-man roster opened up. However, openings on the 60-man roster might be hard to come by this season. For a player to be removed from the 60-man player pool, they need to be placed on waivers. There are a few exceptions and one COVID-19 related caveat, but the MLB has structured this in such a way that teams are highly discouraged from removing members of the original player pool.

It can be said however that front office members have stated these players have routine online meetings with coaches to check up on individual workout plans.

Rule Changes

In addition to the roster changes, a few other rules changes are in place for the season.

Universal DH

National League teams will be allowed a Designated Hitter for at least this season and next. After the completion of the 2021 season, the collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players will need to be re-negotiated. A permanent decision regarding the universal DH will likely be decided during those negotiations.

Extra Inning Base Runner

All extra half-innings begin with a runner on second base. By default, that runner is whoever precedes the lead-off hitter in the lineup that half-inning. In most cases, this will be the batter that made the final out in the previous inning. Teams are permitted to pinch-run for this player, but standard pinch-running rules apply. Furthermore, if the player preceding the lead-off hitter in the lineup is a pitcher, the runner will be the player preceding the pitcher in the lineup.

Suspended Games

If a game is suspended before it becomes official, it will pick up where it left off on a later date. In other words, no games will begin from scratch and no innings will need to be re-played.

Wet Rag

Pitchers are permitted to carry a wet rag in their bag pocket to use in lieu of the licking their finger, which many pitchers like to do. Pitchers must be off the rubber to use their rag and must wipe their hand dry prior to touching the baseball.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

If a manager or player “leaves their position” and comes within six feet of an opposing manager or player for the purpose of argument or altercation, they’re subject to immediate ejection as well as a fine or suspension. The MLB will issue suspensions under previous precedents, without taking into account a shortened season.

COVID-19

Players will receive temperature and symptom checks twice daily and will get tested every other day.

In addition to the standard Injured List, there will be a COVID-19 related Injured List. Players that test positive can be put on this list. They’ll continue to receive service time and receive their full prorated salaries. Furthermore, this list does not have a minimum or maximum day requirement that the standard IL does. A player that receives two negative tests in a row, is fever-free for 72 hours, and is cleared by the MLB and doctors can return to action. Players that do not test positive can still be added to the list if they are experiencing symptoms or have had confirmed contact with a positively-diagnosed individual.

As mentioned above, there is a COVID-19 related caveat to removing a player from a 60-player pool. If the alternate training site experiences three or more positive related tests at one time, the MLB reserves the right to permit an MLB team to replace those players on the 60-player pool with other players within the organization.

From MLB.com and MLB Network’s Mark Feinsand:

Salaries & Pay

Players will receive a prorated salary. A 60-game season is approximately 37% of a 162-game season, so players will receive 37% of their original 2020 MLB salary.

FAQ

1. Will there be fans in stadiums at all this season?

Presently, fans are not permitted to attend games in the 2020 MLB season. However, the possibility of returning fans to MLB stadiums in some fashion later in the season has not been entirely ruled out.

2. Have any players opted out of the season?

Yes. The following players have opted out of the season: Felix Hernandez, Nick Markakis, Jordan Hicks, Mike Leake, David Price, Buster Posey, Joe Ross, Ryan Zimmerman, Welington Castillo, Hector Noesi, Collin McHugh, Ian Desmond, Michael Kopech, Tyson Ross

Additionally, the Canadian Government has opted out of the 2020 MLB season. They denied the Blue Jays’ request to play at their stadium in Toronto during the season. Currently, the Blue Jays are searching for arrangements to play at a stadium in America.

3. Do players that opt-out receive any salary?

Players choosing to opt-out that are designated as high-risk will still receive both pay and service time. If a player is not designated as high-risk, they are not entitled to their salary. However, it is generally understood that MLB teams are capable of ultimately paying these players if they so choose to.

4. Is there still a trade deadline?

Yes. The trade deadline for the 2020 MLB season is August 31st.

5. Is there still an All-Star break?

No. There is no All-Star Break or All-Star weekend activities for the 2020 MLB season.

6. Can records be broken during this season?

Yes. The 2020 MLB season is official, and a player’s eligibility for statistical records is determined by their at-bats, innings pitched, or innings played defensively relative to their peers rather than a pre-determined number based on a 162-game season. While counting records (such as HRs and Strikeouts) are unlikely to be broken in a 60-game season, rate statistics (such as batting average and ERA) are up for grabs.

7. Is the 2021 MLB season effected by this season at all?

As it stands, the 2021 MLB season will not be impacted by the 2020 season. This year’s shortened schedule allows the season to be completed no later than the season originally would have prior to the COVID-19 delays.

  
Zach Boeder is a high school math teacher that has a passion for sports and data journalism. Zach received a Bachelor's Degree in Mathematics and a Master's Degree in Education from the University of Arizona. He currently teaches in Saint Paul and Lives in Minneapolis with his partner Sarah, their dog Dozier, and cat Remy. Zach plans to argue for a very long time that "2020 would have been the Twins' year if baseball hadn't been shut down."

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