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Catching up with where the Yankees left off in March

Baseball is coming back, but the stands will remain like this. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Playing baseball seems pretty reckless right now, but things will move full steam ahead starting this week. The Yankees already announced their initial player pool yesterday, which I broke down here. Most of those players will report to “summer camp” by Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. The rest, i.e. the taxi squad, will head to another location.

Since it’s been a long time since spring training was cut short, now’s a good time to refresh our memories of where the Yankees stand today. But first, let’s run down some of the new rules for this season:

  • Universal designated-hitter
  • 30-man roster for first two weeks of season, followed by 28 players for the next two weeks, and lastly 26 players the rest of the way
  • August 31st trade deadline
  • Postseason eligibility: player must be added to Major League roster by September 15th
  • Teams can have three players on their taxi-squad for road games, one of three must be a catcher
  • Extra-innings will begin with a runner on second base (batter who made final our in previous inning or a pinch runner)
  • 10-day injured list for pitchers and hitters
  • 60-day injured list is now 45-days
  • Separate injured list for players who test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19 with no minimum or maximum days for list

With that out of the way, here’s how the Yankees shape up at the moment.

Aaron Judge could be ready for Opening Day

The saga continues, three months later. Newsday’s Erik Boland reported on the right fielder’s status over the weekend, and while its good news that Judge is hitting off a tee, it’s not as much progress as one might have hoped since March.

As a reminder, Judge suffered a rib stress fracture and collapsed lung late last season, though nobody found out until this spring. His lung is healthy, but his rib is another story. We learned that Judge was set to have a CT scan to check his progress in mid-May, and perhaps another one not long after. However, we’ve been in the dark ever since.

Boland quotes one club insider who said that Judge “didn’t seem to be holding anything back”. That’s good and all, but tee work is still a long ways away from game action. Hopefully, the three week tune up is enough time for him to ramp up from the tee to game-ready. The Yankees really need as much of Judge as possible in this shortened season, so hopefully we get better news when the players report to camp this week. For now though, “could” doesn’t leave me particularly optimistic.

Stanton, Hicks, and Paxton are healthy

In better injury news: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and James Paxton are healthy.

Stanton, who lost nearly all of 2019 to a myriad of injuries, suffered a calf strain back in February. It’s not new news that Stanton’s ready, though. Manager Aaron Boone said so back in March, as Bobby reminded us in a post a few weeks ago.

Last week, Hicks told the New York Post he’s ready to play. So that’s that. I think we all anticipated this, particularly after seeing how long it took Didi Gregorius to rehab offseason Tommy John surgery last season.

Finally, Paxton’s surgically repaired herniated disc is a non-issue at this point. This is old news, but positive nonetheless. Having a healthy Paxton piggy back Gerrit Cole during the 60 game sprint will be key, especially if the southpaw is as good as he was down the stretch last summer. Remember, the Yankees were undefeated in his final eleven starts of 2019 when he posted a 2.51 ERA. Not only would a repeat performance obviously propel the Yankees, but it would help Paxton land a big contract this winter when he hits free agency.

Domingo Germán’s suspension

The shortened season has guaranteed that the Yankees won’t have Domingo Germán in 2020. The 27 year-old right hander was suspended at the end of 2019 after MLB’s investigated a domestic violence altercation between Germán and his girlfriend.

Entering this year, there were 63 games remaining on his suspension which would have put him on track for a return in June under normal circumstances. Instead, the remainder of his suspension will keep him on the sidelines for all of the regular season and three postseason games should the Yankees make it. I can’t imagine the Yankees bringing him back for the postseason, though.

About JA Happ’s Vesting Option

I doubt that the Yankees want to bring JA Happ back in 2021. Over a full 162 game season, it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the Yankees to prevent his $17 million option from vesting. Was he really going to make 27 starts or throw 165 innings over a full season this year? Probably not. But now, under the terms of the March agreement, things get trickier for the Yankees. Take a look:

Each player signed to a major league contract at the start of the season shall have his salary determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the number of games scheduled (not adjusting for weather-related postponements or cancellations) divided by 162, minus any advanced salary. In the event of an additional interruption or delay, the salary shall be determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the games played by the player’s club divided by 162. Thresholds and amounts for bonuses, escalators and vesting options would be reduced by using the same formula.

In a 60 game schedule, Happ needs to make 10 starts or throw at least 61 1/3 innings to return to the Yankees in 2021. I wouldn’t fret about the innings threshold. However, limiting Happ to just nine starts during that span won’t be so simple. It’ll take an injury or a demotion to the bullpen to fall short. I guess we can’t rule out contraction of COVID-19 either, sadly. What a world we live in.

What if the pandemic interrupts or ends the 60 game season prematurely? Happ’s thresholds would be recalculated based on the amount of games the Yankees play. Since Happ will only need to make one start every six games, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the season ends after just 10 games and Happ’s already made two starts, thereby guaranteeing his 2021 option.

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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:

The 2019 Yankees and RBI

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve at least dipped a toe into the waters of analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. Even if you haven’t done more than that–or even that at all–you likely know that RBI isn’t exactly an ‘in vogue’ measure of a player’s performance. And, really, it shouldn’t be. While getting a hit with a man on base is great, that hitter didn’t do the work to put the men on base. At best, a high RBI total shows us a combination of skill–getting the hit–and chance–hitting while there happened to be men on in front of you. 

Stil, RBI tells us a story–who scored when and courtesy of whom. Without that story, the story of the game itself can’t be told. Earlier in the week, I saw a story about RBI that caught my attention. 

In a Facebook group, someone mentioned Luis Castillo’s 2000 season, in which he notched 17 RBI in 626 (!) plate appearances. Curious as to how that happened, I went to Castillo’s game logs page on Baseball Reference and looked up this handy chart:

Despite how shockingly low that is, especially when you see it compared to the average, it makes sense. Castillo was mostly a leadoff guy who was on a below average (79-82) team, so he routinely had bad hitters and the pitcher in front of him to drive in. The whole thing, though, got me curious about the Yankees. How good were they at driving in runners? Let’s take a look, using some charts. I included only those who had 300+ PA. 

Gary Sanchez

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44629677265426321+5

Luke Voit

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
51032062196130020+1

DJ LeMahieu

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
655343102307938620+10

Didi Gregorius

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
34421561284120220+8

Gio Urshela

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
47630474245728020+4

Gleyber Torres

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
60436890247335621+3

Brett Gardner

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
55030574246632420+4

Aaron Judge

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44724955225426321+1

This isn’t too surprising, is it? The Yankees get a lot of men on base–not one player had fewer than expected runners–and drive a lot of them in–not one player had fewer than expected RBI. As such, all of them are above the average expected RBI% by at least 1%, with DJLM smoking everyone else at 10% above average. 

Are these players good because they have high RBI totals and percentages compared to the average? No. They have those things because they are good players and they play with good players who get on base. RBI don’t tell the whole story, but they tell part of it. In this case, it’s another way of telling us the the Yankees are good at hitting. Plain and simple.

Episode 3: Living That Quarantine Life

Randy, Bobby, and Derek return for Episode 3 of the Views From 314ft Podcast. Despite living that quarantine life, the blog brothers jump right into the baseball news of the moment.

We are adhering to the shelter in place guidelines of New York State and recording remotely. We will be doing so for as long as the “shelter in place” order remains. We’re talking on Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. Here are the episode notes:

  • [Open] Introductions and catching up on everyone’s well being.
  • [1:35] Discussion about Aaron Judge’s collapsed lung(!!!).
  • [9:54] An update on Giancarlo Stanton’s calf strain.
  • [13:20] We ponder if/when the MLB season will start and how the schedule may look if there is indeed baseball this year.
  • [19:35] The impact of an abbreviated season on service time and CBA negotiations.
  • [30:51] Will MLB try to change the playoff format this season?
  • [36:59] Mailbag question: Does a shortened season World Series victory mean as much in the history of the sport as a regular-length season World Series victory?
  • [44:08] Mailbag question #2: Which of these four players is most likely to be in a Yankees uniform five years from now? Least likely? Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, or Miguel Andújar.
  • [54:16] What does the outfield look like to start the 2020 season if everyone returns from injury prior to Opening Day?

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify and spread the word.

We hope you and your families remain safe and healthy. See you again next week.

Aaron Judge’s Bone Healing, Collapsed Lung (!) Healed

Can you believe it was just two weeks ago today that we found out about Aaron Judge’s injury? It feels like a lifetime ago. In some ways it was, really. For those of us who may have forgotten, we learned that Judge had a stress fracture in his rib that may or may not require surgery to fix. This was the play on which the injury occurred, all the way back in September:

The short-term prognosis was for Judge to take it easy and see if the bone healed on its own. The last real update came a few days ago. Bryan Hoch reported that Judge, who is incapable of “taking it easy”, was “aggressively pushing it” in workouts because he felt better.

All of this serves as a precursor for today’s update. It was an interesting one to say the least. First, let’s start with the good news, via Kristie Ackert of the Daily News:

The test looked good! The bone has shown healing! He won’t need surgery because of the delay! I love silver linings! The previously undisclosed issue with his lung has healed! This is all pretty good stuff, right?

[Taps mic] What’s that? A “previously undisclosed issue with his lung?” That’s a new one! Fortunately, Judge was right there to clarify this right away, so we have more clarity. Again, via Ackert:

Ah, a collapsed lung. A collapsed lung! That is a very serious medical issue, though its severity depends on a number of factors that we don’t quite have available to us, obviously. The long and short of it, though, is that lungs help us breath and breathing is very important. Not sure about you guys, but I prefer it when anyone, let alone my favorite baseball team’s best player, has fully functioning lungs. The good news, via Bryan Hoch, is that it is “completely gone”:

All in all, there are many questions here. For instance, one might reasonably ask for how long the lung was collapsed? Did it occur on that play highlighted above? If it did, why didn’t the Yankees catch it in September or even October, after the season? And on and on and on. We all know the drill by now, unfortunately. Judge’s small shoulder concern at the start of camp turned into a broken rib and also, a collapsed lung, as a treat. (Still, even with all of this still out there, it’s obviously very good that Judge’s lung is back to normal. This is genuinely good news.)

Finally, I think we should all take steps to look on the bright side. After all, regular American life is falling apart all around us and baseball is gone. The bright side here, obviously, is that there is some sense of normalcy after all. Even amid a crushing pandemic currently gripping the nation, the Yankees can still shock us with a bizarre, completely unforeseen injury escalation to a vital player. So we have that going for us, which is nice.

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