One prominent element, however, will not return: the universal designated hitter, which the union had sought. It became a negotiating chip: The league had offered the designated hitter in exchange for an expanded postseason, which the union rejected.
Rosters will be smaller than last year — 26 active players, with 28 in September, vs. as many as 30 last year — but reserve squads will remain, and roster rules may be relaxed to help clubs if there is a virus outbreak.
Teams must assign several new titles related to the many demands of playing during a pandemic: an infection control prevention coordinator, a compliance officer (who must be an assistant general manager or of higher-ranking), a contact tracing officer, a contact tracing working group and at least one face-mask enforcement officer.
Players and key staff must wear Kinexon contact tracing devices, which have also been used by the N.F.L. and N.B.A. (The manual has various rules on who can gain access to the data in the event of a confirmed virus case and when the data should be deleted.) According to the protocols, “repeated failure” to wear the device at team facilities or during team activities, or to return them to their docking stations, can result in discipline.
Players and key staff can also be fined $150 per violation, beginning with the third instance, if they do not wear a mask properly, or at all, when required.
While the regulations for the season can be tightened as needed, they can also be relaxed should the public health situation improve. Vaccinations won’t be required for players, the manual stated, but M.L.B. and the union will strongly encourage them “at the appropriate time.”
Saag said his hope that this M.L.B. season can be completed stems in part from the rollout of vaccinations and from his belief that “a lot of the ice jam of getting access to vaccines will start to thaw” by opening day. He predicted a significant transition toward more normalcy and safety by perhaps the All-Star break in July.
“But here comes a caveat,” he said. “There’s an assumption in everything I just said, that the variants that are emerging will be contained through the vaccine, and that the public will continue to be vigilant, especially with regard to mask wearing and, for the time being, avoiding large crowds. So when you take that and extend it to the fans who would want to go to a game, we’re still going to have to constrain that until we get to a point where the transmission of virus is at a very low level.”