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2020 MLB Amateur Draft Primer: Order, Rule Changes, & Yankee Roster Implications

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Wednesday is the first day of the 2020 MLB Amateur Draft. Not counting the Winter Meetings/free agency, this is the first real baseball event since Game 7 of the World Series last October. Pretty exciting!

I am definitely looking forward to having something to cover again, truthfully. Baseball is a huge part of my life and I miss it a lot, so it will be nice to talk about something other than a labor fight. To that end, Derek is working up a thorough overview of mock drafts and players to whom the Yankees are connected. Keep an eye out for that before Wednesday, as that will get you up to speed.

Before that, though, I wanted to put together a brief overview with some top-line reminders about this draft, the COVID-19 related changes, and its potential long-term ramifications. Let’s get to it.

The Basics

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This will be the most bizarre draft in MLB history. To begin with, obviously, it will be an all-virtual affair – no in-person scouting, no draft rooms, and no physical gathering for the draft. That’s all because of a pandemic that you may or may not have heard about.

The virtual set-up will take place over two days:

  • The first round, as well as the competitive balance round, will be televised beginning at 7 pm on MLB Network on Wednesday. That will total 37 picks.
  • The remaining 123 picks (more on that in a minute) will be be shown on Thursday, beginning at 5 pm. This will also be broadcast on MLB Network.

The Yankees will make a total of 3 picks in 2020. The will make selections in the 1st round (28th selection), 3rd round (99th selection), and 4th round (129th selection). The Yankees lost their 2nd and 5th round draft picks as a penalty for signing Gerrit Cole, which is a thing that they did, as easy as it may be to forget. Like I said, Derek will get you up-to-speed on the relevant players, but this is where they’re slotted right now.

2020 Rule Changes

If you couldn’t tell, there were some pretty drastic changes made to the draft this season. Remember the end of March? It feels like 10 years ago, honestly, but that’s when the MLB and MLBPA agreed to their original framework for a 2020 season. Buried in the agreement was the changes to the Amateur Draft. They’re drastic. Here are all of the relevant changes:

  • It is only five rounds. (For context: it was 40 rounds last year, was 50 not too long ago, and historically went until teams decided they didn’t want to pick any longer.)
  • The deadline for players to sign is August 1, not July 10.
  • Signed players can receive a maximum of $100,000 in 2020, with the remainder of their bonus to be paid out over 2 years.
  • Undrafted players can earn a maximum of $20,000 (previously $125,000) in 2020.
  • A team can sign an unlimited number of such players, but cannot talk to them until 9 am on June 14.

Those are the basics, anyway. It’s a dramatically different situation than it was a year ago. These changes will have long-term impacts. It will weaken the depth of MiLB, threaten the very existence of lower minors teams, and potentially drive top-tier athletes to other sports. It’s especially worrying given the fact that MLB and MiLB are fighting over the structure of the Minor Leagues – many of these changes feels like tools to accomplish those goals – but potentially unavoidable given, well, everything.

It bums me out, but there’s nothing we can do about it. The changes are the changes, and no amount of whining by me will make them any different.

Yankees Selected After Round 5

Finally, and as a bit of a tangent, I felt like doing a bit of quick digging into the Yankees’ current 40-man roster to see how many players were selected in the 5th round or later. It turns out that it applies to a full 20% of the 40-man – and a higher percentage of drafted players generally.

Here is the full list, in alphabetical order:

  • Chad Green: 11th round, 2013 (by the Detroit Tigers)
  • Ben Heller: 22nd round, 2013 (by Cleveland)
  • Kyle Higashioka: 7th round, 2008, (by the New York Yankees)
  • Jonathan Holder: 6th round, 2014 (by the New York Yankees)
  • Mike King: 12th round, 2016 (by the Miami Marlins)
  • Brooks Kriske: 6th round 2016 (by the New York Yankees)
  • Mike Tauchman: 10th round, 2013 (by the Colorado Rockies)
  • Luke Voit: 22nd round, 2013 (by the St. Louis Cardinals)

Interesting mix! Conservatively, half of these players figure to be a major part of the 2020 roster. Green is a pivotal part of the bullpen. Voit is the starting first baseman and a middle-of-the-order bat. Higashioka will be the backup catcher. Tauchman will be a key part of the outfield rotation. Less conservatively, Heller, King, and Holder will be a part of the Scranton Shuffle if nothing else. (Honestly, given the potential for a 50-man roster, they may even be in the Bronx full-time.)

The point is that players selected after round 5 play a big role even on good teams. You could argue that the Yankees have the best roster in MLB and even they have a ton of players from the later rounds. Now, they do also have a #1 overall selection in Gerrit Cole, plus a ton of early round selections, but still. Potentially driving players like these out of the game is bad news for everyone. Let’s just hope that this is a one-year blip on the radar and nothing more.

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News & Notes: 2020 Season Negotiations, the Yankees and MLBPA, Yankee Injury Updates

Is there another “Spring Training” in the future?

It feels like a lot has changed since I wrote a roundup of baseball news last week, but it also feels like we’re in exactly the same position: there is no plan for a season, and the two sides are still bickering. Still, though, I am as confident as I’ve ever been that we’ll get baseball in 2020 – and that we’ll find out about an agreement soon. Maybe I’m the sucker.

I sure hope we do, anyway. It would be nice to get some good news these days. I am looking forward to the MLB Amateur Draft (June 10 at 7 pm EDT) though. It’s being broadcast on MLB Network and, hilariously, ESPN. Real sports! Live action! We’ll be covering that, and running down who we think the Yankees might select, next week. So stay tuned for that.

Yesterday, I was thinking about Giancarlo’s 2018 walk-off against the Mariners. Today, I’m thinking about this one from Gleyber, which came amid that torrid stretch where it felt like the Yanks couldn’t lose:

Just fantastic stuff. Anyway, onto today’s news & notes.

2020 Season Roundup

As we all know by now, ownership and the players are still divided. Updates are pouring through social media, with many players speaking out. It can be hard to follow. The good news – if you want to call it that – is that most of this activity doesn’t really matter. Publicly airing laundry is a useful tactic, as it helps clarify positions and signal to the other side, but it’s not really worth following the nitty-gritty in this case. Both sides are negotiating. However, there have been a few important developments. Let’s run through them:

  • MLB Proposes New Framework (May 26): This is what everyone was talking about last week, and which I covered here. I won’t go into any more detail here, but it’s the one with the sliding scale of pay reductions and a reduced number of games. This was formally offered to MLBPA on May 26.
  • MLBPA Extends a Counteroffer (May 31): We heard rumors of this one last week. The union rejected the league’s new offer and instead proposed a 114-game schedule with no additional pay cuts for players. Just as the league went back on the original March agreement with pay reductions, the union went back on the number of games. Politics!
  • MLB Rejects MLBPA’s Offer (June 3): This week, MLB rejected that offer and informed the MLBPA that it would not extend another counteroffer.
  • MLBPA Stands Firm (June 4): Then, last night, we got word that the union “resoundingly rejected” the league’s latest offer. Union chief Tony Clark’s full statement is here.

That, my friends, is what we could call an impasse. Jeff Passan over at ESPN actually dove into all of this a bit more this morning, reporting that what the league wants is actually a 48-game season. His report goes into significant financial detail, so check that out if you want the full picture.

I don’t think any of that stuff really matters right now, though. The details are the details. The 30,000-foot view is more important. The foundational facts here are that both sides are losing (a lot) of money right now and that it’s in both parties short- and long-term interest to resume a season. The key issue is the number of games that season will be. That seems to be the pivotal point of discussion. Everything else – roster size, playoff structure, etc. – is comparatively small potatoes.

That’s why I’m actually optimistic. I know that there are a ton of structural problems with baseball economics and that the pending CBA expiration is a complicating factor. I also know that, because the season never started in the first place, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison with leagues like the NBA or NHL, who have generated 2020 revenue already. But I’m confident that this is all posturing and negotiation. When push comes to shove, both sides will concede on the number of games – my money is on 82, right where all of this started – and all the rest will fall into place. After all, if the owners’ losses really are “biblical”, as Cubs owner Tom Ricketts says, then they’ll have no choice but to get back on the field sooner rather than later.

Yankee Labor Presence

As all of these negotiations swirl, several Yankees are at the forefront of these discussions. (H/t Lindsey Adler, as always.) I was actually pretty surprised to see it. The union has an eight-player executive subcommittee.

Here is that committee:

  • Association Representatives: Andrew Miller, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, and Elvis Andrus
  • Pension Representatives: Cody Gearrin, Chris Iannetta, James Paxton, and Colin McHugh

Half of the executive subcommittee has recent ties to the Yankee organization. Obviously, Paxton and Iannetta are on the team now, and Miller was a big part of the Bronx bullpen just a few years ago. Gearrin, you might recall, was in the Yanks’ clubhouse a bit last year. Paxton and Iannetta alone mean that the Yanks’ players are more represented than their peers. Miller and Gearrin is just an additional connection.

Moreover, like every team, the Yankees are represented by a player to the union. Right now, that’s Zack Britton. As Lindsey notes, Gerrit Cole (the Yankees signed him, remember?) and Adam Ottavino have been player reps in the past for other teams. It’s a pretty union-heavy locker room on 161st and River these days.

(Relatedly, Paxton is no stranger to labor fights, as his time as a college student at the University of Kentucky shows. A dispute over the role of agent Scott Boras resulted in Paxton leaving school before the drat. He didn’t finish his final season. Read more on that here.)

Yankee Injury Updates

Finally, let’s cover some on-the-field-stuff, shall we? It’s a good reminder of The Before Times™ when I was able to do that multiple times a day. When we last left the Yankees, they were a hurt and hobbled mess. It was a continuation of the 2019 season, really. If there’s one good thing about this delay, it’s that the team should be healthy when the season does resume.

Here’s all of the good news from significant injuries:

  • James Paxton: In early February, the Yankees announced that Paxton would miss 3-4 months following back surgery. The timeline was for him to come back in mid-May, which would have been about 6-8 weeks of season. For his part, Paxton is fully healthy now. He’s resumed a throwing program and is even tinkering with his fastball grip. I’m interested in the new grip (and will probably get to it next week), but the most important thing is that it seems like Big Maple will be ready to go.
  • Aaron Hicks: Hicks, who needed Tommy John surgery this offseason, was slated to miss several months of the season. Like Didi Gregorius before him, he was aiming for a mid-July return. (Didi made it back sooner, but let’s be conservative here.) According to Hicks’ Instagram, he has been swinging a bat. All of the news has been positive. If and when the season resumes, he should be ready to take part in most of it.

Here’s all the obvious stuff:

  • Gary Sánchez: Gary, who was struggling with back aches and a flu that was definitely not COVID-19, should be all set and ready to go for 2020. We’ve seen video and photos of him behind the plate recently, so one can only assume he’s healthy. This injury was just small stuff anyway.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: Stanton also got banged up in Spring Training, remember. The good news is that Boone called him “game ready” in late March even though there were no games. So he’s all recovered from his minor injury, which is good news.

Finally, the confounding/weird news:

  • Aaron Judge: Who the hell knows what’s going on with Aaron Judge these days. His broken rib/collapsed lung came to light in late March. The timeline was unclear then, with rumors swirling he might need surgery. He hasn’t, as far as we know, but he also hasn’t resumed swinging a bat. I don’t know, man. It’s the weirdest situation. Let’s just hope Judge recovers by the time the season starts. Losing him for 4 months would have sucked, so there’s a silver lining.

Anyway, it’s Friday and everything is depressing and bad these days. I don’t want to end on the Judge injury note, so I’m not going to. I am amazed by Aaron Hicks’ ALCS performance every time I think about him. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible. Dude missed so much time and honestly had the best at-bats of anyone on the team against that nasty Astros staff. Incredible.

Here’s the first inning of Game 5 of the ALCS, capped by Hicks’ impossibly satisfying home run off Justin Verlander as a palate cleanser to [gestures wildly] all this:

Thoughts on the Yankees, MLB, and Social Unrest

Happy Thursday, friends. Hopefully, we’re a day closer to real baseball. Recent developments do suggest so– but today, we’re not going to focus on that. That will come tomorrow. Today, I want to focus on the Yankees, MLB, and the ongoing social unrest. There’s a lot to say about the role that the Yankees, and Major League Baseball in general, have (or haven’t!) played in the ongoing public discussion, as you can imagine.

But before I get into all of that, let me just say (again) that I miss baseball a lot. For some reason, this particular game has been on my mind a lot over the past few days. Oh, how I want to see Giancarlo do this again soon:

That was a fun day. This is probably Giancarlo’s most memorable Yankee moment, and it was the high point of a stretch in which the slugger hit .301/.363/.581 with 27 home runs across 94 games. And some fans wonder if this guy is good. Sheesh. Anyway, on to the serious stuff.

1. (Some) Yankees Speak Out: The social unrest caused by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis is sweeping across the nation. It was only a matter of time before the Yankees and their players joined the public discussion. Let’s start by looking at what some players have said:

I may have missed other posts on Tuesday. To be honest, I didn’t look that hard. Posting the black square is nice, but it is not the same as taking a principled stand here. Say what you will about the substance of Paxton’s post, but I think it’s important (and unusual) to see a white Yankee player publicly talking about concepts like white privilege. It’s a start, albeit a very small one.

On the other hand, the silence of nearly everyone else on the team is deafening. I know that a lot of people get irritated when sports and politics intersect, but that argument doesn’t work for me. As the old rallying cry goes, “the personal is political.” That’s a good maxim generally, but it is especially true in sports, which are intertwined with American society. The very same inequities, power structures, and attitudes of our society writ large echo throughout sports – especially baseball, America’s pastime. That’s why there is a long and proud tradition of activism from athletes in American history. Bradford Davis dove into this and more yesterday over at the Daily News, so check him out, as always.

In other words, the failure of the Yankees to speak up here is very disappointing. The roster has featured a number of prominent black players in recent years. Those players were the teammates of most of the current team. Choosing to be silent – choosing not to condemn police brutality and choosing not to speak up in support of black teammates and colleagues right now – is speaking up in its own way. It’s not like players on other teams aren’t doing something. They are. It’s likely not enough, but it’s something. It’s frustrating and disappointing to see so little from the Yankees. But it’s not exactly surprising.

2. CC Sabathia Unchained: I bring all of this up because, well, CC Sabathia has not been quiet at all recently. The big man (and his wife, Amber) is really letting loose on Instagram lately. Check it out for yourself. Sabathia, one of baseball’s Black Aces, has always been outspoken, but it’s hard to remember him ever speaking up like this. Perhaps this is unfair – the current moment, for all its historical precedent, does feel unique – but am I alone in thinking Sabathia is more outspoken now than he would be if he was still playing? Torii Hunter’s candid recollection of his experience does not exactly lend confidence here. It is enough to make you wonder about CC.

One thing is for sure, though: Sabathia is not being shy right now. He is really using his platform to speak out. Amber commented on one post that the Sabathias “will no longer be silent to make you comfortable.” CC, in another post, said “your silence is killing us” and urged folks to “use their platform.”

This is not necessarily a shot at former teammates, of course. After all, a primary tenet of this entire movement is about speaking up and raising awareness. But it’s hard not to read these comments in the context of the Yankees’ overall silence, isn’t it? In any case, CC Sabathia has been one of my favorite players in the league for a long time. He was certainly my favorite Yankee. When the season resumes, I will miss rooting for him – but he continues to be a shining example of everything a New York Yankee should be, even in retirement.

3. The Yankees and their Public Statement: The Yankees themselves did release a statement, which I will post in its entirety here:

Moving! I’m inspired. Aren’t you? In all seriousness, how embarrassing. The Yankees could not be bothered to write even their own words here, let alone say “police brutality”, “George Floyd”, or even “black.” They couldn’t be bothered to write their own words despite representing a city whose black and brown population has been devastated (in multiple ways) by a pandemic. They chose not to write their own words despite the protests and rallies happening each and every day in the five boroughs. It is shameful. They ought to be embarrassed.

This does not even consider the fact that they choose to co-opt the message of a genuine civil rights icon in Nelson Mandela. If he was alive, there is no question Mandela’s words on this topic would be more pointed and forceful than the carefully selected quote the Yankees highlighted. (Just look at the statement a foundation in his name released today.) It is downright embarrassing and insulting to pretend otherwise. In fact, South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, led by Mandela, is useful historical context.

That movement was frequently brutalized by the South African police. The Sharpeville Massacre is the most prominent example, but there were countless others. Mandela himself spent decades in prison. I could go on and on, but there’s no point. Read about the anti-apartheid movement for five minutes and you’ll understand. I’m disappointed, frankly. The Yankees need to be better.

4. Other Teams & MLB: Other teams across the league have released statements of their own. Some were good. Most were bad. There was a fascinating roundtable discussion (subs req’d) this week over at The Athletic this week that I encourage all of you to read. It got into the various experiences of black baseball players and it helps provide overall context for all of this. It should be a must read for all baseball fans.

Speaking of must reads, Randy weighed in on MLB’s statement yesterday on Twitter. As always, Randy was succinct and thoughtful. Please give it a read and think about its message. Read it, take a breath, and then read it again.

News & Notes: Labor War, Boras’ Email, 64 Hours of Derek Jeter

Remember this?

Friends, I miss baseball. A lot more than a normal person should, really, but that’s to be expected. I also miss writing about baseball: it’s been several weeks now that I’ve been mostly completely absent. Of course, we all have the pandemic to thank for that. While I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, it’s altered quite a lot of the day-to-day, hence the silence.

In any case, that’s over now. You can expect much more regular posts in this space again, and frankly, I’m very excited about it. A tinge of normalcy will be nice, and writing about baseball has always been cathartic. (And a special thanks to Randy and Matt is in order, as they’ve managed to keep things rolling here. It’s greatly appreciated.) It’s time for a news and notes post.

But first! A fun highlight: 16 years ago today, the great Mariano Rivera earned his 300th career save. It came against Tampa Bay. Here’s the video:

Miss you, Mo. Our man went on to collect 352 more in his illustrious career, which made him baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Famer. Good stuff. Onto today’s relevant news.

A Labor War, What’s It Good For?

Is baseball going to have a season in 2020? That’s the million dollar question these days. I am actually optimistic – if that’s a word you want to use – that there will be a truncated season of some sort. At the same time, though, there are serious complications to that vision, caused by the broken economics of the sport.

No reader of this site is a stranger to the fact that there have been obvious fault lines in baseball’s economics for some time now. Management and labor – using the term “owners and players” obscures that this is a labor issue at heart – have been battling for years now. We’ve all seen it coming and many of us predicted a work stoppage after the CBA expired next year.

Well, the pandemic has exacerbated that underlying labor crisis and accelerated negotiations because now everyone is feeling the squeeze. Randy and Matt have discussed this and more lately on the podcast, so I don’t need to get into it that much more, but there are a few notable updates over the past few days.

First, MLB presented the MLBPA with a new plan to restart the game. It involves another pay cut for the players, who have already agreed to one. It’s steep for the richest players in the game. Here is the pay scale, per Jeff Passan:

Yikes! In Yankee terms, that means Gerrit Cole would make about $9 million this year, not the $36 he signed for. Nobody will feel sorry for these guys, of course, as 41 million Americans file for unemployment (but not the MiLB players who aren’t getting paid!) these days. But it’s understandable that the union will not go for this deal after already accepting a pay cut, especially to it’s most powerful and visible members. For what other purpose would MLBPA even exist if not to push back on this?

And they are pushing back. Via player union official Max Scherzer, the players will not engage with the league any further on this issue. Here is his statement, which, again, can be read on behalf of the entire union:

The union is also now pushing back on the 82-game proposal for a longer season – going back on previously agreed upon terms, just like their management friends. Now that at is what I call an impasse. (And, according to one union lawyer on Twitter, a tactically wise one for MLBPA. Check it out.) I don’t think its an insurmountable hurdle by any means, but these are real challenges to getting the league back up and running.

In these scenarios, I am always, 100% of the time, going to side with the players. I truly believe in the maxim that you can’t privatize the profits and socialize the losses. (Well, you *can*, because, well [gestures widely] but it’s an immoral thing to do.) Besides, management takes the risks here, as they like to say. Sometimes, when you take risks, it blows up in your face. That’s what risk means.

At the same time, this is a weird, unprecedented economy. There is no question that teams will take a haircut and earn less money these days. I’d be more sympathetic, though, if the league as a unit wasn’t already squeezing players (and fans!) for every last penny recently, product be damned. I’d bet the union would be more friendly, too, but what do I know. In other words, a live look at MLB:

Trevor Bauer vs. Scott Boras

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Last night on Twitter – where so much of these negotiations are bearing out – Trevor Bauer blasted Scott Boras for “meddling” in MLBPA affairs. Here’s what he had to say:

At the time, I thought that was puzzling not just because Trevor Bauer is a noted idiot but because Scott Boras’ “personal agenda” aligns with the players’ more than just about any other actor in the baseball universe. Turns out that, indeed, Bauer’s actions are puzzling. Today, the Associated Press got access to some of Boras’ “meddling”, and here’s what it was:

In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Boras wrote that players should not alter terms of the March 26 agreement between MLB and the union that called for players to reduce their salaries to a prorated rate based on a shortened season. MLB on Tuesday proposed a series of tiered reductions that would cause top stars to receive the biggest cuts.

“Remember, games cannot be played without you,” Boras wrote. “Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”

Boras has a undeservingly bad reputation, but it’s impossible to deny that the man has a point here. These are lines the players should be trumpeting from the rooftops, so it’s a bizarre choice by Bauer to slam him, but not altogether unsurprising.

But buried in the email was one more interesting point. Perhaps, in fact, it’s the key point of all this: per Boras, “the owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks.”

It’s an insightful critique and one that gets at the heart of the problem. The league is about much more than just baseball, of course, and that’s the root cause of the labor issues. It’s why salaries have largely stagnated – complex investor groups, complicated land use deals, and other financial arrangements are the language of the game’s books – in recent years and a driver of the labor strife.

These are tangled webs, but I think Boras has the right of it. Owners have made record profits lately. Players should not need to finance their losses now, especially not more than they’ve already agreed to. Again, it’s bizarre for an outspoken player to slam a powerful actor for articulating this stance, but hey, it’s Bauer.

(For a more detailed explanation of the Yankees debt service obligations surrounding the financing of Yankee Stadium, a crucial topic for the team, check out the last answer in this mailbag. I explored it in a bit of detail there.)

Derek Jeter, Ever Heard of Him?

Every non-Yankee fan’s favorite punching bag is back in the spotlight. MLB Network is going to be running 64 (!) consecutive hours of Derek Jeter coverage, beginning tomorrow at 6 am EDT:

That is a crap ton of hours about Derek Jeter and some people are going to get so performatively mad about it. I love it. Jeter, for all his faults, is one of the finest players in league history and a beloved franchise icon – and one of my favorite characteristics of his is to make nearly everyone else mad. You gotta love it.

I’ll probably be tuning in to see some of his many career highlights over that period. Here’s one that never gets old:

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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