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Baseball’s New Agreement & DJ LeMahieu’s Future with the Yankees

Last week’s agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Player’s Association outlined what the 2020 season could look like if happens at all. It opened up a huge range of outcomes, so I’m gaming out their potential impact on the Yankees. Yesterday, for example, I thought about what it might mean if games are all held at neutral sites and the Yankees get zero games in the Bronx. Today, I want to focus on another, long-term element: how it impacts DJ LeMahieu. He will be a free agent after the season, remember. Yes, I’m getting ahead of myself, but what else am I supposed to do right now?

The agreement includes some pretty substantial protections for the players. In the event that there’s no season, players on the 40-man roster will receive service time equivalent to what they earned in 2019. In other words, LeMahieu will be a free agent this winter no matter what happens. His case is fascinating to me and I’ve spent tons of time thinking about it already.

2019, A Career Year

As we all know, LeMahieu was an absolute force at the plate last year. As Derek noted in his season review, everyone – literally everyone – was wrong about him. In my decade plus on the Yankee internet, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the fanbase so collectively wrong. (That’s saying something!) Our guy hit .327/.375/.518 (136 wRC+) and blasted 26 home runs, almost double his previous career high of 15.

It was an impressive showing but also somewhat of an anomaly for the infielder. It was not just his most valuable season by a full win (5.4 fWAR to 4.4 in 2016, his previous career high), but he also hit the ball much harder and for considerably more power. I mean, who ever thought we’d see LeMahieu doing this?

There was some evidence that LeMahieu was undervalued and underperforming at the plate in Colorado – his batted ball profile was good in 2018, for example – but nobody expected this. He put up a bonafide MVP year and had all of the peripherals to support him. Of course, the weird ball last year injects some level of uncertainty to this success. How much uncertainty depends on who you ask. Still, though, there’s no question about the fact that his best year in terms of offensive production – and especially in terms of power – came in the year of the rocket ball. That’s bound to at least raise some eyebrows and skepticism, fair or not.

Ordinarily, LeMahieu would be looking for a strong rebound campaign to quiet those doubts and prove that his 2019 was not an anomaly. Now, he will either have considerably fewer games to prove that case, which inserts all kinds of small sample size noise, or may never get the chance at all. This is unfortunate for everyone but it hurts a guy like LeMahieu, who burst on the season in 2019, disproportionately.

The Offseason Landscape

The offseason, no matter what this season ends up looking like, is going to be weird as hell. That’s especially true for LeMahieu. There are three main things to consider, I think. Let’s get into all of those here.

New Budget Constraints

First things first: management is going to be feeling the squeeze after this season, no matter what happens. I know nobody feels bad for them, but we have to live in reality. COVID-19 is wrecking havoc on America’s economy. It’s only going to get worse the longer this goes on. There are fewer games, which means less revenue at the gate and from merchandise. People will also have less disposable income to spend on those items even if everything recovers in the most optimistic timeline. All of this will be true even as operating costs continue unabated.

As we all know, though, most MLB revenue comes from TV deals. I’d guess that this revenue is still coming through, but I’m not a contract lawyer nor do I moonlight as one. I really have no idea. After all, players aren’t getting their full salaries due to emergency clauses in the CBA, so who knows?

Now, it’s fair to assume that this matters less to the Yankees than other teams. They’re the wealthiest team in the sport, after all. They have the largest fanbase and, if the season returns, figure to be in the thick of all the postseason action. But they’re still going to service their Yankee Stadium debt to New York City, for example. The point is that there is a lot of financial uncertainty, even for the Yankees. Will this impact how much money the Yankees allocate to departing players like LeMahieu? It very well could. You could argue it shouldn’t, maybe, but let’s be real: it probably will. We’ve seen it happen in more certain times than this, after all.

Player Evaluation

With that financial uncertainty as a backdrop, the Yankees will have to evaluate LeMahieu through unusual lenses this winter. There are two realistic outcomes here:

  • A Shortened Season: The league plays some number of games, whether it be whether 60, 80, or 120. This injects a ton of sample size noise into the equation, especially if LeMahieu got off to a cold start. A rough 20 games, which is really just 2-3 weeks, can really destroy a stat line in the less optimistic of these outcomes.
  • No Season At All: This is by far the more complicated option. LeMahieu would enter free agency on the back of his best ever season, but without having played at all in over 12 months. Any lingering questions, fair or not, about the role of the ball or just a normal career year will go unaddressed.

Both of those scenarios introduce complications of their own, obviously. I suspect the former is easier to handle. There is still the benefit of past seasons for evaluations as well as internal workouts, etc. That hurts a guy like LeMahieu, though, who changed the entire conversation around his career in 2019. He wants less focus on pre-2019. Ordinarily, he’d get the chance to further distance himself from sub-par seasons. Not so anymore.

Say he struggles in 2020 but it’s only 60 games. This being a business, you’d have to imagine the Yankees using that against him in any 2021 contract negotiations even if they know it’s unfair. This is less of a concern if he hits the cover off the ball again, but that puts a lot of pressure on him to not slump at all. It’s weird.

As for the second option, well, it’s even weirder. I really don’t know how teams would handle this, especially for older players like LeMahieu. (Remember, he’ll turn 33 in the middle of the 2021 season.) There are just so many factors to consider. The best parallel, I guess, is a player getting hurt and missing a season before free agency, but that’s not right either. That often results in a pillow contract – think Dellin Betances – and that feels like something that wouldn’t happen to LeMahieu, obviously. He’s due for a raise. The question is just how big of a raise, and determining that will be the hard part.

So, What Do You Do?

Right now, I think the Yankees would absolutely offer him the qualifying offer. That should still be the average of the league’s top 125 salaries – around $18 million or so – which is a 50% raise for LeMahieu. He might just accept that, even though it’s just for one year, but I doubt it. The argument would serve as a pillow contract while also providing a raise. It would give him a chance to go earn a bigger contract one year later. On the other hand, he’d be 33-turning-34 at the time, so who knows.

The other thing to consider, though, is the new importance of draft picks. If the league shortens the draft to just 5 rounds, picks are much more valuable. In other words, offering a QO and attaching a draft pick to a player makes the cost of signing that player a bit higher. Normally, I’d scoff at that. A good team should never let a comp pick stop them from signing a good player like LeMahieu…but there’s much more uncertainty now. It could be a deterrent, especially if other teams are further constricting their budget due to the economic climate.

We also have to consider that teams may be less willing to spend big on the free agent market due to this climate, too. That may reduce LeMahieu’s market power, too, and drive him right back into the Yankees’ arms. LeMahieu, as good as he was in 2019, isn’t like Anthony Rendon or even Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. He has many more question marks already, let alone the broader question marks facing the league. It’s unfortunate for him.


All in all, though, this gets a big shrug from me right now. I really have no idea. There’s so much that could happen between now and then. I mean, maybe he comes out and is extremely productive again if and when games start. That’s the ideal situation for everyone, obviously. The good news is that all of this uncertainty may just make a reunion between the Yankees and 2019’s most dependable player even more likely.

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The Yankees May Play 2020 Without Their Biggest Advantage: Yankee Stadium

I miss this. (Screengrab via MLB)

Major League Baseball and the Players Association reached an agreement on Friday that outlined what the 2020 season will look like, if it ever happens. I covered all of that in some detail already, so check that out if you missed it. The new agreement is pretty significant in a lot of ways, though, so there’s a lot to say beyond what I already wrote – especially for the Yankees, for whom this season falls into a title window. One of those areas is the potential for neutral site games.

As a reminder, the agreement laid out three conditions for starting up the season, which are as follows:

  • There are no bans on “mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans”;
  • There are no travel restrictions in place in the U.S. or in Canada; and,
  • It is medically safe for players, fans, or staff.

Those are very straightforward and prudent, but there’s a catch. That’s to be expected – both sides here clearly want to play if at all possible – and it’s an interesting one. If it appears that it will be impossible to meet these three conditions, the two sides can “consider the use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible” before calling the season.

As I said the other day, neutral site games in empty stadiums feels like the most likely outcome to me right now. That will be a logistical challenge to say the least but it sure does beat no baseball. It’s also uncharted waters that may take away a significant advantage from the Yankees. Let’s get right into it.

The Yanks at Home

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees and the Bronx are inseparable from one another, even if national broadcasts always inexplicably show shots of Times Square during Yankee home games. There’s good reason for this: the Yankees are really, really good while playing at home. The Bombers have played 891 games in the new Yankee Stadium since it opened up back in 2009. They’ve played 891 games on the road over the same period. Here is the team’s performance at home and on the road since (all regular season):

  • At Home, 2009-19 : 555-336 (.623), 4539 RS (+791 RD)
  • On the Road, 2009-19: 469-422 (.552), 4285 RS (+459 RD)

The Yankees are still quite good on the road – a .552 winning percentage is an 89-win team over a 161-game season – but they’re the best team in baseball at home. Over a full decade (!), the Yankees were a 100-win team at home. That’s nuts and nobody else is even close. Here are some of their relevant rankings:

  • Wins: 555 (1st, next closest is LAD with 543)
  • Losses: 336 (1st, next closest is LAD with 349)
  • Winning Percentage: .623 (1st, next closest LAD at .609)
  • Run Differential: 791 (1st, next closest LAD 652)
  • Pythagorean Winning Percentage: .587 (1st, next closest LAD at .585)

That’s quite the home field advantage right there. Remember, this is a very durable period: it includes two distinct premier Yankee teams (’09-12, ’17-19) and some middling ones (’13-16) as well. It’s an impressive amount of success at home.

It holds over the recent renaissance, too: the Yankees have the most wins (161), fewest losses (82), best winning percentage (.663), and second-best pythagorean winning percentage (.639) over those years. For those keeping track at home, that’s a 107-win pace. The new Bombers are even better than their predecessors at home, even in the postseason, where they’re 10-4 in the Bronx since the 2017 Wild Card Game.

Numbers are great and all, but let’s take a quick trip down memory lane for a visual representation of the Yankees at home. Exhibit A:

The place was rocking for that – as, I can attest, was my apartment at this time. So much so, in fact, that the Astros spoke about it while leaving town after Game 5. “New York is no joke”, former nemesis Dallas Keuchel told the press. “This is a wild place to play,” said George Springer. But here’s the money line: “It was crazy. I never heard anything as loud as it was yesterday when Gary hit that double. Loudest I’ve ever been part of,” said Carlos Correa. The Bronx Zoo, indeed.

What This Means Going Forward

So, I think the implications here are pretty clear: the Yankees are going to get stung hard if there are neutral site games this year. Every team is, really. Everyone likes to play at home! But nobody is better at it than the Yankees, so it stands to reason that they’ll be the most impacted.

Now, to be fair, we don’t really know what this scenario will look like. As I said, it’s a logistical nightmare. Can you even imagine trying to schedule an abbreviated season at new ballparks in a way that makes them actually neutral? For 30 teams? I cannot, but perhaps that’s why I’m a lowly blogger.

We do know one thing for sure, though: the Yankees will be impacted by this in some way. I would guess that this policy would be universal – I can’t imagine some teams playing at home while others are in Iowa or whatever – so that impacts the Yanks. But even if it isn’t universal, and only applies to the hardest-hit areas, that also includes the Yankees. New York is the epicenter of this thing, after all. So, much as we may not like it, Yankee “home” games may not be in the Bronx this year. There are basically two scenarios here: 1) neutral stadium games are played in front of fans or 2) they’re played in empty stadiums.

What does that mean for the Yankees? I’m not really sure, really. As a friend pointed out on Twitter, Yankee fans travel. We saw that, for example, in London this past year:

And we’ve seen it at basically every game played in Tropicana Field or at Camden Yards for the last 20 years. It’s not just that the fans travel but that there are so damn many of us, so wherever the team plays, there are bound to be Yankee fans. That’s one of the benefits of playing for a marquee global brand. So, for scenario one, I could be convinced that the Yankees are actually best-positioned. No other franchise has their reach or fanbase. That is real and can’t be discounted.

But this assumes that the benefits of playing at home are exclusively tied to the fans. I’m confident that fans are a big part of it, but there’s also a regular routine, waking up in your own bed, being surrounded by your family, etc. There’s more that goes into this than the Stadium faithful. So, really, this gets a giant shrug.

As for the second scenario, where there are no fans at all, we do have some context. The Orioles and White Sox played in an empty Camden Yards in 2015. Here are the highlights:

It’s weird! Zack Britton was there, though, and he recently said it was “bizarre” to play in the empty stadium. He told Lindsey Adler that he could hear Gary Thorne calling the game while he was pitching. It would take some major adjustment for everyone and I don’t know what would happen if the Yankees played ~60 games in empty stadiums, none of which were Yankee Stadium. It would be so uncharted that there’s no way to know, really.

One thing is for sure, though: either scenario strips the Yankees of their biggest recent advantage. If it happens, and I hope it does because give me weird baseball over no baseball, we can only hope that the Yanks’ considerable talent is enough to overcome that drawback.

There’s a New Agreement for the 2020 Season. Here’s What It Means for the Yankees.

If we get any baseball in 2020, which is still very much an open question, the season is going to be much different than any we’ve ever seen before. That’s not just because of the fact it will be considerably shorter. Last night, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the League and the Player’s Association agreed to a new deal that will dictate the terms of the 2020 season.

As expected, the agreement has implications for the Major League season as well as major ramifications for the MiLB system as well. I broke this up into two main parts: a bird’s-eye view what it entails and then, this being a Yankee blog, its impact on the team we all care about too much. *Deep breath* Let’s get right into this one.

An Overview of the Agreement

Passan wrote up the agreement today over at ESPN.com, which you can see in full here. I do my best to break it all down in a clear and concise manner here, broken into the two relevant components: the conditions and the impact on the game.

The Conditions

It’s important to note, though, that it’s a conditional agreement. The season will not begin until the following conditions are met:

  • There are no bans on “mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans”;
  • There are no travel restrictions in place in the U.S. or in Canada; and,
  • It is medically safe for players, fans, or staff.

Those are three very prudent, wise, and commendable provisions. They are clearly taking the COVID-19 threat seriously, which is important: a single soccer match in Italy is linked to a mass outbreak. However, it does not bode well for professional baseball in 2020, that’s for sure. I think we all need to recognize that there is a very real chance that there is no season this year.

The good news is that there is an out. The commissioner and the union can consider “the use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible.” Games played in empty stadiums in neutral sites feels like the most likely outcome at this point. It sure feels like this – no matter how logistically challenging it will be – will be possible before all three of the above conditions are met. I’m no doctor nor a public health expert but that’s just my sense, based on everything I’m reading, as of right now. We’ll have to see.

If that’s what happens, it will be weird and unusual, but you know what? I’ll still watch and cheer on the Yanks. I bet you will too – which is exactly why I expect that this will happen. Some TV revenue and no gate is sure as hell better than no TV revenue and no gate. So, yeah.

What it Means for the Game

Anyway, with all of that out of the way, here’s a bulleted list of what we know so far, most of which tracks with what we knew on Wednesday:

  • Players are guaranteed a full year of service time even if the season is cancelled;
  • There will be a complete transaction freeze (no trades, signings, and roster moves), but MiLB players are still able to lose their jobs;
  • The union will not sue for complete salaries;
  • The league will pay $170 million in advance payment to players, which will be divided among players among four classes, with those with guaranteed MLB contracts getting top priority;
  • The arbitration system is being reworked to account for a shorter season;
  • Both sides are open to playing into November (which means regular season games in October);
  • The draft is being moved from June to July, though may be shortened to as few as five rounds;
  • The draft allotment didn’t increase, and drafted players will only receive up to $100,000 in 2020, with the rest of their bonus delayed until July 2021 and ’22;
  • Teams cannot trade draft picks or international bonus money;
  • The 2020 international signing period can be delayed, with the latest period stretching from Jan. 1, 2021 to December 15, 2021; and,
  • Drug suspensions will be for 2020 only, so players will be eligible to return in 2021.

So, that is a lot, obviously. There’s still a bit of fluidity over the situation and they’re even considering expanding the playoff pool from 10 to 14 teams. A lot will happen between now and getting on the field, that’s for sure.

There are a two top-line takeaways from all of this, though. The first is that this is a good sign: the service time issue was obviously the biggest obstacle, so it’s good to see the two sides reach an agreement there. (It’s weird to consider that Mookie Betts may become a free agent without ever suiting up for the Dodgers, but I like this agreement.) There is also still one more major obstacle, as it leaves undetermined what happens if a player tests positive. That happened today in Japan and will be inevitable here, too. This is a major one, but we will cross that bridge when we get there.

As Passan and others have noted, this clears a major hurdle. We’re a step closer to real baseball, in a way, than we were yesterday. Still, though, there are worries with the agreement. Baseball-Prospectus’ Craig Goldstein outlined those very well here; check that out for more details.

The second is that this deal leaves MiLB players, high school and college prospects, and MiLB teams out to dry. Bonuses are smaller and are also delayed. The draft is shorter. Short-season and rookie ball level teams may get contracted as a result. The Player’s Association, which does not represent MiLB players, sacrificed them to reach a deal here. That’s just the way it is. No use denying it.

Impact on the Yankees

So that’s the deal and what it says for now. It’s obviously pretty incomplete and more will come as we learn more about the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact. For now, though, there’s a lot to say about how this impacts the Yanks, even beyond what I wrote the other day. I’m sure there are other implications than these, but here’s a good start:

1. Making the Playoffs Got Easier: The Yankees should have been a playoff team anyway, but the road to October got a lot easier if the pool is expanded to 14 teams. Even in the craziness of a 60-game schedule, it’s very hard to imagine the Yankees missing the playoffs in this scenario. (That’s especially true given the fact that the team should be healthy again by the new Opening Day.) Hooray for that!

2. Luis Severino Misses Fewer Games Now: I joked about this on Twitter, but given the conditions outlined above, there’s a chance that this season just doesn’t happen at all. That would mean that Luis Severino, who went under the knife a few weeks ago, would miss very few MLB games with Tommy John. It’ll be like the injury and surgery never even happened!Silver linings, folks. We gotta look for them in these dark times.

3. Neutral Site Games: If the league moves to neutral site games, the Yankees will lose their considerable home field advantage. The Yankees are really, really good in the Bronx. Since the team’s 2017 renaissance, there have been 243 regular season games played in the Boogie Down. The Yanks have won 161 of them for a .663 winning percentage. That’s a 107-win pace over a normal 162-game season, which is very good. I’m sure the Yankees will be fine no matter where they play, but losing home field for a season would be a blow for the Yanks. No doubt about it.

4. Service Time and the Yankees: The biggest impact this will have is definitely on the players, especially those who are set to become (or could become) free agents after this season. That list includes:

  • James Paxton: The 31-year-old lefty is set to become a free agent for the first time after this season. It’s hard to know what effect a shutdown or delay will have on his free agency, but I doubt it helps. That’s especially true if the season is canceled. It’s hard to imagine a favorable market for him considering his age, injury history, and the fact that he won’t be able to build off his second-half success last year. This would also be an unfortunate resolution to this trade from the Yankees’ side.
  • Masahiro Tanaka: The thought of Tanaka never throwing another pitch for the Yankees after Game 4 of the ALCS last year simply makes me too sad to seriously consider, but it’s a distinct possibility now. I always thought a marriage between the two sides was the most likely outcome, but now. it feels even more likely. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tanaka in pinstripes.
  • DJ LeMahieu: DJ is a very weird case now, especially if the season doesn’t happen. He’ll be a free agent after his career year…but a whole year will have passed in between. He’d be one of the most fascinating cases to watch from an intellectual point of view.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: It was unlikely anyway, but it’s almost impossible to imagine Stanton opting out now, no matter what happens in the season. Virtually no scenario imaginable now – even if he dominates – in which Stanton is not a Yankee for the duration of this contract.
  • Brett Gardner: This could be the end for Gardner. There’s now a real chance that we never get to give the longest-tenured Yank a proper send-off.
  • Zack Britton: He’s another weird case. Britton was very good in 2018 and 2019, but he’s also on the wrong side of 30. Who knows what his market will be like?

5. Domingo Germán’s Suspension: According to Joel Sherman, Germán will have to serve the remaining 63 games of the suspension this year. I imagine that clock starts ticking once the season resumes. If it doesn’t happen at all, the league will count the suspension as served. So that’s interesting.

6. Short-Season MiLB Teams: This could be the end of the Staten Island Yankees and Pulaski Yankees. JJ Cooper has a pretty good explanation why:

Remember, these teams exist in a state of uncertainty right now anyway. The new system now represents an existential threat for these teams. It’s too bad. I hope this is not the end of the line for these guys.

7. International Signing Period/Slots: Finally, not being able to acquire new international signing money really hurts the Yanks, who have used international free agency to fill out their farm system. They’e also made numerous trades to acquire more space – remember the Adam Warren trade? – and signed major free agents like Jasson Dominguez in this period. This new agreement removes a major tool from the Yankees’ toolbox.

Mailbag: Shortened Season, MiLB Treatment, Best NYY Athlete, Finances

Yesterday should have been Opening Day. Instead, it was the first day the baseball shutdown really hit me. There’s just something about Opening Day that’s special and I felt really empty without it. I love to watch Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS – I’ll watch that bad boy every time it’s on – but it’s not the same. It just isn’t. Oh well.

On to today’s mailbag, I guess. It’s the best we can do! There are four good questions today. As always, please feel free to reach out to us by email at viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com with your questions. We answer our favorites each week.

Joseph Asks: Does a shortened season World Series victory mean as much in the history of the sport as a regular-length season World Series victory?

Photo by Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

We covered this on this week’s podcast, but I wanted to touch on it again here because it’s been an ongoing discussion in baseball-land these days. This seems to have all started when Mariano Rivera got his best Goose Gossage on, saying that a 60-game regular season wouldn’t produce a “real” champion because that isn’t long enough for a baseball season. I understand this sentiment – the marathon season is one of baseball’s distinguishing characteristics – but I don’t agree with it.

To me, a “real” baseball season is any season in which baseball is played. I don’t care about anything else. We collectively spend too much time worrying about things like this. These are sports. They’re basically all fake anyway and just exist to entertain us. This is all to say that if the Yankees win the World Series in 2020, if a season even happens, I will lose my damn mind with joy. I don’t care how it happens, just bring me number 28.

To really drive this point home, I want to bring up a historic example. I’m sure every reader here remembers the 1918 World Series. That Fall Classic is seared in baseball’s collective memory, especially for Yankee and Red Sox fans. (At least it used to be.) Obviously, the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918, traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees after it, and did not win again for 86 years. Did you know that Major League Baseball shortened that season due to the First World War? Do you think that stripped any meaning from the title? Reader, I posit to you that it did not. (Yes, I know they still played 140 games, but still. The point holds. It didn’t even come up as a taunt by Yankee fans.)

Jamie Asks: The Yankees are one of the richest sports clubs in the world. Does anyone know if they’re taking care of their minor Leaguers during these troubling times? (I mean from a salary standpoint. I know they’re delivering food to the quarantined kids.)

This is a bit of a complicated question, so let’s start with the basics. Last week, Major League Baseball announced that teams would support MiLB players with a “level of uniform compensation” in a lump sum. The total is equivalent to what the players would have earned through April 8, which comes to $400 a week ($57 per day). It doesn’t apply to players who are receiving housing, food, or other services from their teams, which is unfortunate. The full release is here:

The Yankees are a unique case because two players in their system tested positive for COVID-19. Of course, that meant that players were quarantined for two weeks per the CDC’s recommendation. The Yankees, to their credit, provided a lot of support to those players (who I imagine represented a sizable portion of the system).

Per James Wagner’s reporting in The New York Times, the Yanks hired a local catering company which prepared three meals a day for each player. (They’d drive to a team hotel to pick up their meals.) The team also increased the daily meal stipend from the usual $25 to $75 for the mental burden of the quarantine. It was a good gesture from the Yankees and it should not go unnoticed. Now that the quarantine is over, qualified players will receive the $400 a week like everyone else.

I’m on record here as saying that I don’t think this shutdown is going to be over anytime soon, let alone by April 9. Let’s all hope that the teams take this decent first step even further and provide even more support for MiLB players, who often live paycheck-to-paycheck as it is. (I’ll have more thoughts on this later when I write something up about last night’s new agreement between MLB and MLBPA.)

George Asks: Getting cabin fever, so here’s an off the field  ( or off the wall) question. Who was the Yankee who was the best overall athlete?  Dave Winfield comes to mind. 

This is a tough question but a fun one. Winfield fits the bill to me from everything I’ve read about him, but I never saw him play. So those are going to be my rules: if I didn’t see a player play, he doesn’t count for me. That leaves mostly players from the mid-90s onward, where there are still a ton of options.

Alex Rodriguez comes to mind first. Obviously one of the most talented players in baseball history, A-Rod was also a superstar quarterback in high school. He was so good that Miami University offered him a scholarship to play quarterback. Here’s what Miami’s head of recruitment told Ken Rosenthal: “He had size, he had speed, he had smarts. They were recruiting him for baseball, but we were recruiting him for football, too.” Not bad!

Another option is also obvious: Mariano Rivera. Teammates often referred to him as an incredibly understated athlete and he was a fixture in center field during batting practice. (I’m sure we all remember his devastating 2012 injury.) Rivera even wanted to play center field in a game before retiring. I think he’s certainly a contender for this unofficial crown.

I’m not sure the answer, really, since baseball doesn’t highlight athleticism in the same way that, say, basketball does. I imagine that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, for example, would come across much differently in a different sport. So, while this is a bit of a cop out, it’s a fun question. All that really matters is that they’re all much better athletes than you and I are. That’s for sure.

Brian Asks: There is some evidence that the Marlins are run on a shoestring budget (apparently they have looked for additional funding, slashing payroll, etc.).  Do you have any reason to think that a prolonged shutdown could systemically endanger their ability to operate?

Rumors about the Marlins have been going around since the new ownership group, which includes Derek Jeter, purchased the team back in 2017. As Jon Tayler noted at Sports Illustrated, Miami missed out on the regional sports network bonanza that floods the game with cash. Barely anyone goes to the games, so they’re not making that up at the gate. These issues are compounded by the fact that the ownership group is either unwilling or unable to fund a competitive payroll.

When the Miami Herald reported that the team was planning to strip payroll after the 2017 season, which it then did by selling off Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich, ownership was on record as saying that it had “little liquid capital” to put into payroll. Worse, MLB knew this before approving the sale.

The group sought additional investment just months after purchasing the team, after all, and there was a legal dispute with Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the Marlins over profit-sharing from the sale of the team. (That’s because off clever offshore registration.) You could make a compelling argument that the league should never have approved this deal in the first place. For what it’s worth, the team did recently commit $1 million to help support ballpark workers during the shutdown.

As for what the shutdown will do to the ownership group, I could not even fathom a guess. I’d hope that the team’s finances are stable enough to withstand this, but who knows? Certainly not me. It’s worth watching though, for sure.

News & Notes: The Yankees Exist, After All

This photo was taken 15 years ago, right? Back in February 2020.

Folks, I have some good news: the Yankees still exist! It is difficult to remember that these days, but it’s true nonetheless. We got a good reminder of that today as Aaron Boone held a conference call with reporters. Updates about the Yankees! It was a nice memory of the Before Times and I greatly appreciated it. A true breath of fresh air.

There was even enough to justify throwing up a quick review of the biggest news and developments, so let’s get right to it.

The Big Story: Baseball as a Distraction

Union prisoners playing baseball in South Carolina, 1863. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Before we get to the substantive on-the-field updates, I want to briefly expound on something Aaron Boone said today. It’s a bit more of a bird’s-eye view on the role of sports in the wake of national trauma. Here’s what Boone said, per Bryan Hoch: “Our job, when we come back, ultimately is going to be bigger than the game and all of us as well. As we’ve seen throughout time, sports can play a role in the healing as a diversion, a distraction. A sense of normalcy.”

This is a poignant point from Boone. I’ve seen a few people predict that the pandemic is going to lessen the role of sports in American life. The argument goes that many Americans, once they’ve adjusted to the post-sports world, will do something else with their time when sports return. Think of it like quitting smoking cold turkey. I, however, do not buy that one bit. If anything, the opposite is true: when this is all over, I expect our interest in sports to increase, not decrease.

That’s because sports, baseball in particular, have always held a unique role in times of crisis. Soldiers in the American Civil War often played baseball during downtime, which helped spread the game and serve as a reunification tool after the war ended. During the First World War in France, the American military built 77 baseball fields which collectively hosted 200 games a day. (“You can’t get enough baseballs to go around here,” said a report from the front lines in 1918.) During the Second World War, many folks debated whether or not baseball should continue during the war. Two-thirds of the country thought it should, as did President Franklin Roosevelt. He famously argued that “it would be best for the country if baseball kept going” in his “Green Light Letter” to Commissioner Landis. I could go on and on, right on up to the post-9/11 era.

All of this is to say that Boone is right. I would even argue that the moment many Americans took COVID-19 seriously was when the NBA suspended its season. Sports are that important to us, and baseball has an especially rich history in this regard. It has historically soothed national nerves and provided a welcome respite from the “regular” world for more than 170 years. It will have much the same effect once it starts up again in 2020. I just hope we don’t get too nostalgic and start up the engine before it is safe for us to do so.

Leftovers

With that out of the way, let’s get to the baseball updates. Boone actually said quite a bit today. And that’s in addition to this morning’s ESPN report, which I touched on fully here. A full day of baseball news! How exciting. Without further adieu:

  • Aaron Hicks officially began his throwing program, which is good news. (James Wagner) Hicks is aiming for a June return – just like Didi Gregorius last year – and this puts him on that timeline. Hey, he might even be ready for Opening Day!
  • Giancarlo Stanton is “over the hump” with his injury. (James Wagner) This comes after last week’s update in which Boone said Stanton would “probably” be ready for Spring Training games, so this is good. It’s as expected, really – it was just a calf strain. It’s nice to hear that a calf strain is just that, for once.
  • Aaron Judge is still “in the healing phase” of his broken rib and will be evaluated again in a few days. (Brendan Kuty) While it’s “hard to say”, the Yankees believe that his collapsed lung could date back to that September dive against the Angels. (Kristie Ackert) 2019 really was just a cursed year, guys.
  • There are still 8-10 Yankees working out at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. (James Wagner) We don’t know who they are yet, but I’d be willing to bet a decent amount of money that Aaron Judge is one of them.
  • The Yankees’ MiLB self-isolation period ends tonight at midnight. (James Wagner) Remember, two MiLB players in the system tested positive for COVID-19. That player will remain in isolation a bit longer, and players from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic will remain in Tampa due to travel restrictions. (James Wagner)
  • Aaron Boone will be playing catch with Gerrit Cole – they’re neighbors – again today. (Lindsey Adler) Cole, for his part, has been “spending nine hours on the phone talking about potential future baseball” to pass the time each day. (Amy Cole)
  • Finally, Scott Boras created a plan for a 162-game season that would have the World Series end around Christmas, which would be great for us as fans but probably bad for everyone else. (Los Angeles Times)

And that’s the news, folks. Felt good to get one of these up here again. Stay safe, everyone, and have a great night.

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