The State of Baseball: MLB's biggest challenges for 2021 and far beyond

The state of baseball has never been more in flux.

The players on the field are more talented than ever before, but increased velocity from pitchers has led to record strikeout totals and low batting averages. There is new generation of exciting young stars emerging, but with every bat flip comes another conversation about whether it violates the unwritten rules.

Major League Baseball is exploring new rules that could help solve its pace-of-play issues but is also balancing ways to appeal to traditionalists hesitant to embrace change. Meanwhile, labor issues loom that could threaten to put a stop to any potential progress.

As MLB faces these challenges, we are embarking on a season-long look exploration of the storylines that will determine how the game looks in 2021 and far beyond.

Inside MLB's biggest challenges

Are games too long? How can baseball maximize its new stars? We dig into the topics that will shape the game far beyond 2021. The State of Baseball »

Watch: An in-depth look into the state of baseball

What MLB would look if we were designing it today

From pitch clocks to realignment to the end of blackouts, here are the rules and innovations we'd like to see. Eight things we'd change about MLB »

What the players would change about MLB

Ban the shift? Punish teams for tanking? Four strikes and you're out? We surveyed big leaguers on the state of baseball. Jesse Rogers »

Fix baseball? MLB is working on a plan

Here's how a group including former GM Theo Epstein is experimenting to find the right balance for baseball's future. Jesse Rogers »

Why minor leaguers could form a union to face 'mental health crisis'

MLB is a multibillion-dollar business, but you may not know it by how it treats its most vulnerable athletes. We spoke to players and their advocates about what's next. Joon Lee »

Dysfunctional, unfortunate, unnecessary: Inside the labor fight that threatens MLB's future

Does the contentious relationship between MLB and the MLBPA mean baseball is doomed for another work stoppage? Jeff Passan (ESPN+) »

Why women in baseball say MLB has a long way to go

From discrimination to harassment, firsthand accounts from women working in front offices illustrate deep issues in the league. Joon Lee »

How baserunning has become an embarrassment in MLB

It seems so simple: Run the bases. You learn these things as a child? Or do you? "Baserunning is terrible today," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. It's a real problem in Major League Baseball -- and it's only getting worse. Tim Kurkjian »

Why the strikeout is ruining Major League Baseball

Pitchers are chasing K's. Hitters are OK striking out. So what's the big deal? It's destroying the sport. Tim Kurkjian »

Glanville: Why I can't be an MLB manager right now

As a former player with an Ivy League degree, Doug Glanville checks all the boxes. But as a Black father in 2021, he's not comfortable taking a job in the dugout. Doug Glanville »

Glanville: How would I respond to a racially insensitive remark on air?

Jim Kaat's comment on Yoan Moncada during the ALDS made me consider my responsibilities in such a moment -- and how we should all reckon with missteps on a live broadcast. Doug Glanville »

How a new generation is rewriting MLB's unwritten rules

Seemingly overnight, bat flips and flair have gone from baseball taboos to big league marketing material. How did that happen? Joon Lee »

City Connect uniforms have changed the future of fashion in baseball

The league is calling the sometimes polarizing series a success -- and even the buttoned-up Yankees are ready to get radical. So what's next? Joon Lee »

Lee: Ranking the City Connect uniforms »

What MLB could learn from the Savannah Bananas

They're hilarious. They're social media favorites. They're pushing the envelope of what baseball can be in 2021 and beyond. Alden Gonzalez (ESPN+) »

Why Vlad Jr., Ohtani and Tatis are the new faces of baseball

Why have one face of your sport when you can have three? We break down what makes this trio transcendent. Gonzalez, Lee, Passan »

The end of tanking? How to make every team try to win every year

We asked around baseball for ideas on fixing the sport's non-competitiveness issue. Jesse Rogers »

Answering 20 questions about MLB's foreign-substance mess

One sentence from baseball's highest-paid pitcher brought MLB's sticky stuff issue front and center. Here's how it got so widespread -- and if it can be cleaned up. Jeff Passan (ESPN+) »

Gonzalez: What led to this (ESPN+) »
Doolittle: Crackdown winners, losers (ESPN+) »

October has never been better

No, it's not your grandmother's, your father's or even your older sister's October. But different definitely doesn't mean worse. Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield (ESPN+) »

The more playoff spots the better, right? Not so fast

Should baseball expand its postseason field? Here's why that wouldn't necessarily improve competition. Bradford Doolittle (ESPN+) »

How much is changing the baseball ... changing baseball?

MLB's new dead ball era: We crunch the numbers to find out if the new ball is helping or hurting. Bradford Doolittle (ESPN+) »