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Baseball, Politics, and Sticking to What’s Right

Baseball and sports are political.

That fact is inconvenient, but it’s true. I was tempted to write ‘Major League Baseball” and “professional” sports, but that falls way short. Even youth and amateur sports are rife with politics in ways both metaphorical and literal.

How many times as a kid did you hear a parent say “Oh, it’s so political!” when talking about which youth players made which teams? That may not be politics in the way we know it as adults, but it’s politics nonetheless.

Amateur sports, particularly the NCAA, are also tied up in legal battles, discussions of (lack of) pay for athletes, likeness rights, etc., not to mention the Olympics, a thinly veiled celebration of nationalism. Is it even veiled at all?

American professional sports and politics intersect at every possible, uh, intersection. MLB has an antitrust exemption. Just about every team in every sport tries to get some form of public money/assistance in building stadiums. Labor issues abound. Billions of dollars are at stake.

And when things happen, like the murder of George Floyd, players and teams are going to speak out…or should. They will do so to varying degrees of success and open themselves to criticism because of it. If that makes you uncomfortable…good. As Edwin Jackson said in this week’s (typically excellent) episode of R2C2, people need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

For too long, we’ve used sports as an apolitical refuge when it is absolutely, positively not that at all. The issues I listed above may have been swept under the rug, but they were there and festering. Ignoring issues, ignoring problems…that doesn’t make them go away; it makes them worse.

Many will say that they don’t tune into sports or follow athletes to hear their political opinions, but so damn what? Athletes are people just like us. We express our political opinions in a wide variety of ways and athletes should feel free to do the same.

CC Sabathia was easily one of my favorite players to root for during his time with the Yankees. Seeing him be vocal about race issues, attending protests, posting “Black Lives Matter,” all of that only makes me like him more. I wish he had felt comfortable enough to advocate more during his playing days, but I understand why he didn’t, considering the (political) atmosphere of baseball. That atmosphere told Torii Hunter not to make a big deal of being held at gunpoint by police in his own home. How many other players have kept or are keeping in similar stories?

That Hunter incident and the many things that the players in the R2C2 video remind us that these players are human. All of those men, to an extent, have the privilege of being supremely talented at baseball and much richer than any of us have ever been. Yet they still experience things many of us don’t have to because of the color of their skin. Their lives can and do mirror the lives of the people they’re protesting with and for, the people they’re supporting.

It’s not possible, of course, for players to speak out on every single issue, every single day. I also don’t mean to imply that an athlete’s opinion is any better than yours or mine just because it comes from an athlete. But athletes have a large platform and are capable of reaching a lot more people, generally speaking, than we are. When they feel the need to speak up, they should speak up.

When politics and sports collide–in ways beyond their already conjoined nature–athletes should feel free to speak up just as fans do. They should not shut up and play.

Which Yankees will follow Derek Jeter to Cooperstown?

Sabathia. (Arturo Pardavilla III – CC BY 2.0)

Official announcement of Derek Jeter’s induction to the Hall of Fame will occur later today. It’ll be the second straight year featuring a Yankee, with Mariano Rivera entering Cooperstown last summer. But after these two prominent Yankees, who’s next?

Returning to the ballot for 2021

There are a number of ex-Yankees already on the ballot that will return for the next round of voting. Some are more notable than others.

On numbers alone, Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall. The Rocket spent six of his 24 seasons with the Yankees, though his best seasons were elsewhere. But more important than performance, his case is marred by allegations of statutory rape of a minor and PED usage.

Andy Pettitte will return to the ballot for a third time, but will likely fall short again. He received a respectable 9.9 percent of the votes last year; we’ll see how that shifts this season. Pettitte was a great Yankee, but falls short of Hall-worthiness statistically speaking. His link to PEDs won’t help his case anyway.

Gary Sheffield spent three seasons in pinstripes but absolutely raked while doing so (135 OPS+). He hasn’t received any higher than 13.6 percent of the vote and next year will be his seventh try. Again, PED allegations hinder his electability in spite of 509 career homer runs.

As long as they get 5 percent of the vote, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu will return to the ballot for a second time next year. Giambi won’t make it, but he was fun to watch hit in the Bronx from 2002 through 2008. Similarly, Abreu is going to fall short.

Ballot newcomers

Here are some notable names coming to the ballot in future years:

2021AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher
2022Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
2023Carlos Beltrán

This is a pretty interesting group upcoming. Burnett, Swisher, and Teixeira all fall short by the numbers, though of that trio, Teix seemed to be on the track at one point. The switch-hitting first baseman really fell off after 2011, his age-31 season. Through that point, he had 314 homers, a 132 OPS+, and 44.1 bWAR. But he only rebounded for one more big season — 2015 — before he retired after his age-36 season a year later. Teixeira finished with 409 homers and just under 52 WAR. A very good career, no doubt, but he just didn’t have the longevity.

Things get much more intriguing when you consider A-Rod and Beltrán. The former’s lifetime numbers are historically great: he swatted 696 homers, recorded 3,115 hits, and accumulated 117.8 WAR. However, and this is a big one: he served a season-long PED suspension in 2014. And that wasn’t the first time he used PEDs, either. In 2009, he admitted to using back when he was with the Rangers. So, even though the numbers would make him a slam dunk, the drug usage almost assuredly will keep him out of Cooperstown.

Then there’s Beltrán. Before the recent news that has dominated the baseball world, I figured Beltrán would enter the Hall eventually. He’s got the sabermetric case with just under 70 WAR, though I’m not certain people thought of him as a shoe-in. Anyway, the decision to elect him may not be so difficult after all. His transgressions in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal will undoubtedly adversely affect his candidacy. He was explicitly called out in the Commissioner’s report which will do quite a bit of damage.

The next inductee: CC Sabathia

Bobby already wrote about why Sabathia belongs in Cooperstown, so no need to rehash here. We just have to play the waiting game now. Sabathia will be eligible in five years and hopefully will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. After Jeter, he’s clearly the next individual in line to don a Yankees cap in the Hall of Fame.

Down the road

Looking forward to being 50 years-old in 2040 when Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Gerrit Cole (among others) go into the Hall as Yankees, you guys. Anyway, for fun, allow me to power rank the top five current Yankees most likely to get a plaque:

  1. Gleyber Torres
  2. Giancarlo Stanton
  3. Gerrit Cole
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. Aroldis Chapman

Time for some rapid-fire thoughts on this. I feel like picking Gleyber is bold given some of the accomplishments others on this list have, but I’ll do it no less. Stanton already has 309 homers and is just 31 years-old. Cole has a chance to cement himself as the best pitcher of his generation. Judge has Hall of Fame talent but will need a strong late career considering he didn’t start until he was 25 and has missed time because of injuries. Lastly, Chapman could end his career with the highest strikeout rate of all-time and very high up on the all-time saves list. That said, his domestic violence suspension should give voters pause.

CC Sabathia’s Swan Song [2019 Season in Review]

If it hasn’t hit you yet, let this serve as a reminder that 2019 was the final season of CC Sabathia’s brilliant career. To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in for me either. Yes, even after we did a whole week in tribute to him. For one final time, let’s reflect on Sabathia’s last hurrah.

A continued renaissance leads to milestones

Considering how things ended for Sabathia this season, it’s not as easy to remember how good he was to the year. It was a continuation of his success since he reinvented himself in 2016. From that year through 2018, Sabathia had thrown 481 1/3 innings and recorded a 3.76 ERA (115 ERA+). Soft contact was the name of the game, and to start this year, the big lefty kept that going.

In his first seven starts this year, Sabathia had a 2.97 ERA in 36 1/3 frames. It seemed like the same old CC from recent years — plenty of weak contact, and even with a high home run total, he limited the damage. And during that run, Sabathia achieved a pretty big milestone. On April 30th in Arizona, he achieved a milestone that only 17 other hurlers have reached:

Strikeouts are so commonplace in today’s game that this didn’t get an incredible amount of fanfare. Don’t get me wrong, it got a lot of attention, but the mark doesn’t have the cache of 3,000 hits. And yet, 32 players have amassed that many, far more than pitchers with 3,000 punchouts.

There was one other milestone for CC to reach this year: 250 wins. He became the 48th pitcher with that many wins when he beat the Rays at home on June 19nd.

What’s also notable about that outing: it was the start of another run of strong pitching for the then 38 year-old. In this game and his next three starts, Sabathia threw at least six innings and didn’t allow more than three runs. All that was good for a 3.24 ERA in 25 innings.

This four start stretch was a nice bounce back for Sabathia, as he finished May on the injured list and got roughed up in his first three performances in June. Entering his 250th win game against the Rays, Sabathia’s ERA was up to 4.42. But over the next four starts, he brought the mark down to 4.06 as of July 16th. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last we’d see of Sabathia at or near his best. Oh, and it was also the last time we’d see things heat up between Sabathia and the Rays.

The beginning of the end

Even when Sabathia was pitching well in April and late-June into early-July, there were some red flags. Hitters were striking the ball a little harder against him than usual and hitting quite a few homers.

Unfortunately, and more importantly than some underlying statistics, Sabathia’s body finally started to break down for good. He went to the injured list for knee inflammation three separate times in the summer. As we know, Sabathia’s dealt with this for a while. This time, it was practically intolerable for him as the season continued.

Sabathia made just seven more starts from July 22nd through the end of the season, and they weren’t pretty. In 24 1/3 innings, he allowed 23 runs and nine homers. Surely, his knee woes had a lot do with those numbers.

It was tough to see Sabathia crater in such dramatic fashion. Everyone knew about the lingering knee issues. Sabathia’s ability to manage it and succeed even with pain may have been taken for granted. Ultimately, father time always wins.

The bittersweet end

In preparation for the postseason, there was some uncertainty about Sabathia’s role. Given his performance in the rotation to close the season, he surely wouldn’t make any postseason starts. Instead, the Yankees decided to see if a bullpen role could be in the cards. So, for the first time in his lengthy 19-year career, he made one relief appearance just before the season’s end.

Sabathia threw an easy 1-2-3 frame against Tampa Bay. He threw just 13 pitches to Travis D’Arnaud (K), Ji-Man Choi (6-3), and Matt Duffy (K).

Then came the playoffs. Sabathia wasn’t on the roster for the ALDS because the Twins weren’t a great matchup for him. However, he was active for the ALCS against the Astros.

CC got the job done in Game 2. In the bottom of the tenth, he entered as a lefty specialist to retire Michael Brantley, who grounded out. That was it, as Aaron Boone called to the bullpen thereafter. Sabathia and Boone had a little chuckle on the mound after such an easy night’s work. But sadly, that was the last laugh.

In Game 4, Sabathia pitched the final game of his incredible career.

As big of a downer as the moment was, Sabathia reflected on it with some pride: “This is the best way it could end for me, I threw until I couldn’t anymore.”

What’s next

Retirement, of course. Now, that doesn’t mean he won’t be around the team anymore. He’s obviously close with many, if not all, of his teammates. That’s pretty clear from R2C2. Further, Sabathia wants to remain a part of the organization. A gig as a special assistant certainly is in the cards.

Five years from now, the Sabathia will be on the Hall of Fame ballot. He belongs in Cooperstown, everyone. Perhaps we’ll talk about number retirement, too. And even further down the line, Sabathia assuredly will be a staple at Old Timers’ Day.

The definitive categorization of post-Yankee beards

Love this, minus the uniform. (MLB Gifs)

Matt’s off this week, so in lieu of his Sunday column, here’s my dissertation on Yankee beards.

Since the early days of George Steinbrenner’s tenure as owner of the Yankees, the Bombers have had a strict facial hair policy. Yes to mustaches, absolutely not to beards or excessively long hair.

Would I love to see the Yankees practice the scraggly art of unkempt or even fine-tuned beards? Sure. But the contrast of non-bearded Bombers gives us a chance to study players changing, one follicle at a time.

If someone is drafted by the Yankees out of high school or signs with the team on July 2 as an international free agency, that player is joining the organization well before their prime as a beard grower. Therefore, for much of their adult life, they’re deprived of the ability to grow out fun, lengthy and sometimes hilariously bad facial hair except in the offseason.

When players leave the Yankees, particularly homegrown talents, each player immediately throws away their razor. OK, maybe not literally, but almost everyone grows a beard shortly after leaving the Bronx. Some pull it off well and some … well, they aren’t quite as gifted.

For a breakdown, here’s an unnecessary categorization of Yankee beards.

The Standard Offseason Beard aka the CC

The most common beard you see from a Yankees player is the offseason beard. Without responsibilities to the team, players can go wild from November to February with hirsute appearances.

There is one undisputed champion in this category; CC Sabathia leads the Yankees in Offseason Beards Above Replacement. As he talked about on R2C2, he’s even mastered the in-season beard after learning at the feet of the master, Andy Pettitte, by finding ways to let some growth come up in-between starts. Since he’s now retired, he was quick to start the process back up.

Let’s check out this offseason work from 2014:

That, my friends, is a master at work. CC tested, LeBron approved.

Sabathia hasn’t always had the best beards, but he’s always courtside at basketball games ready to show off the new look. Salute.

The In-Uniform Offseason Beard aka The Bernie

Bernie Williams takes the cake here. First up, his appearance on Seinfeld:

You know that the Yankees are either in a stetch of off-days or the offseason, as Bernie is rocking the goatee. Considering the show aired in November, it’s likely the latter.

Yet Williams was not done. Six years later, he took part in MLB’s trip to Japan and played against Koji Uehara, among others. Most notably, he sported a devilish goatee again, this time in full Yankee pinstripes. We must bow down to this flagrant display of whiskers.

The Average Post-Yankee Beard aka The Hughes

For most players, this is a right of passage. You play for the Yankees for a while and shave every day. Once you leave the Bronx, you want to see what you can do. Most players don’t abuse this newfound power and put together a fine look.

Example: Phil Hughes

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It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong effort from the baby-faced Hughes to blend into the adult world of Minneapolis. I dare say he pulls it off.

Example II: David Robertson and Melky Cabrera

This … This is the Bad Place! I didn’t want to see David Robertson with a beard, so now you have to as well. He put in the effort, but he was meant to be clean-shaven. (Melky’s beard fits him. Don’t @ me.)

Robertson has since tried to hide all evidence of his bearded days with his glove.

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Example III: Ian Kennedy

Kennedy shows up in a later (and lesser) category, but after years of trying, he’s mastered the post-Yankee beard. We salute you, IPK. Save the Big Three. 10/10

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The Cano

Sometimes, there are visionaries in a field. Someone who knows instantly their true calling and makes strides that others simply cannot. That is Robinson Cano and the mustache-less beard. He brought it out at his introductory press conference. That’s how much confidence he had in it.

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Years later, it was still there. He’s since gone in new and innovative hair directions (Check his Instagram), but he’s a unique player in the post-Yankee beard space. No one else is pulling this off.

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Going Too Hard aka The Joba

All of the energy Joba put into expressive fistpumps early in his career went into hiding his chin and neck with hair later on.

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Look, Joba was great. He’s a World Series champion and was just about as fun a middle reliever as one could watch. That being said, he made a follicle folly. Chamberlain appears to have spent 10 years at sea on a crab-fishing expedition and barely lived to tell the tale. This took the post-Yankee beard past the line.

As promised, here’s Kennedy doing the same in San Diego.

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Once a Yankee, Always a Yankee (The Tino)

Almost everyone grows out the Yankee beard. Not Tino Martinez. Never Tino.

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Perhaps he couldn’t pull it off. Maybe he knew not to mess with his good looks, even while wearing a Cardinals or Devil Rays uniform.

Joe Girardi remained steadfast in his clean-shaven look as well. It’s What You Want.

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Extra: The Pre-Yankee Beard!

There are a few players who went hard on a beard before coming to the Bronx. The most famous, of course, is Johnny Damon. As a member of the ’04 Red Sox, he had long hair on every inch of his head.

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He never really grew it out again after leaving the Yankees, only sporting the occasionally average beard of a normal human.

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However, let’s check on the work of one Jonathan Holder. He was drafted by the Yankees but out of college. While at Mississippi State, Holder, aka Kenny Powers, clearly saw grooming as an optional pursuit meant for everyone else.

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Here’s an even better look. If Holder had gone to another organization, he’d have had a chance to shine as a cult hero for his shaggy hair. In the Bronx, he’s just like everyone else.

News & Notes: BP’s Top NYY 10 Prospects, DeGagne, Award Season, Gregorius, Cole, Germán

Happy Saturday, everyone. It’s a cold one out there. The last few days have really felt like the offseason, haven’t they? Nobody is playing baseball in 30-degree weather. Next week (November 11-14) will be the GM Meetings, where team executives get together and talk about the business of the game…and also about transactions.

Last year, for example, Brian Cashman learned that James Paxton would be available. It’s also when the Aaron Hicks extension went down. So we could get some real news soon. Hooray for that. Anyway, here’s the latest and the greatest from Yankeeland in the last few days.

Baseball Prospectus’ Top NYY Prospects

It’s prospect ranking season, everyone. We’re working on compiling our own list internally here at Views, but why not see what the experts have to say? Baseball Prospectus released its Top 10 NYY Prospect List yesterday, which is available to basic (free) members of Baseball Prospectus.

Friend of the Blog Jarrett Seidler was responsible for much of the work here, so definitely check it out. Here is their Top 10:

  1. Deivi Garcia, RHP
  2. Jasson Dominguez, OF
  3. Albert Abreu, RHP
  4. Luis Medina, RHP
  5. Luis Gil, RHP
  6. Anthony Volpe, SS
  7. Estevan Florial, OF
  8. Ezequiel Duran, 2B
  9. Clarke Schmidt, RHP
  10. Kevin Alcantara, OF

High on Abreu, low on Schmidt, but a very good list overall, in my opinion. A few of those guys had great seasons last year, and, of course, our son Deivi Garcia sits atop the list. Seems right.

I noticed that some folks were surprised to see Jasson sit at number two here, but you shouldn’t be. He’s only 16, sure, and few have seen him play, but the Yankees did use up all of their IFA money (upwards of $5m) on him. That tells you something. Plus, as we’ve covered here before, those who have seen him, love him.

The BP staff goes in-depth into each of these players with their take on each of them. They also profile prospects 11-20, who just missed the cut, highlight some of their other favorites from the system, and rank the Top 10 Under 25 talents in the system. (Hint: Gleyber is Number One)

The verdict: the Yankees have a number of high-ceiling arms in the lower minors who miss a ton of bats but struggle with command. Sounds about right. The Yankees have graduated so much talent in the last few years–it’s forming the core of their championship-caliber team–that you can’t expect anything else. The next few years will be big for a number of these guys.

Welcome Aboard, Brett DeGagne

As I noted a few weeks ago after the team parted ways with Larry Rothschild, the Yankees also made sweeping changes to their MiLB pitching coach tree, too. We now have our first (public) hire to fill that gap: Brett DeGagne, by way of North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC). He announced it himself on Twitter last night:

Pitching Coordinator Sam Briend confirmed the news and player development guru Desi Druschel weighed in as well. This should be obvious at this point, but that tells us that DeGagne is analytics-friendly and a forward thinker. Briend and Druschel are viewed as cutting-edge in that regard. One would think their overhaul of the MiLB pitching infrastructure was to bring in other coaches cut from their cloth, so I’m excited to find out more about the DeGagne hire and what level he’ll be coaching. We’ll keep you posted as more develops on that front.

Here’s what we do know: DeGagne was recently an Assistant Coach with the NIACC system in the 2019 season. Before that, he was Pitching Coach at St. Cloud University in 2017 and 2018, and he coached in the Northwoods League collegiate summer program. He pitched five seasons himself at the University of North Dakota. Welcome aboard, Brett.

In related news, new MLB Pitching Coach Matt Blake was chosen in part because he is “ahead of his time”, according to a profile in the New York Post. Exciting stuff happening across the team these days. As I noted above, there are a number of exciting arms in the system, and it’s great to see the team equipping them with cutting-edge coaches. I look forward to seeing how it all shakes out next year.

Award Season for DJLM and Judge

Two Yankees won some notable awards in the last few days. They both deserved them. First, DJ LeMahieu won the Silver Slugger Award for second base. No surprises. Our guy hit .327/.375/.518 (136 wRC+) and was a force at the plate day-in and day-out for the Bombers. He can now add the Silver Slugger Award to his resume, which includes three All-Star appearances, an NL batting crown, and three Gold Gloves. Not bad!

Second, Aaron Judge won Wilson’s Defensive Player of the Year for right field. This is recognition for Judge that I’m really happy to see him get. I truly believe Judge is underrated, which feels insane, but I think it’s true. He’s certainly underrated as a fielder, that much is for sure. I noted this during the ALDS, but the defensive metrics are favorable to our guy. Check out his Statcast “Outs Above Average” metrics:

  • 2019: 6 OAA (24th out of 92 qualified)
  • 2018: 1 (42nd of out 87)
  • 2017: 10 (12th of out 90)
  • All years (16-19): 18 (22nd out of 565)

And his (take with a huge grain of salt) UZR ratings:

  • Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR): 27.2 (2nd)
  • UZR/150: 13.2 (2nd, next closest is Billy Hamilton at 9.5)

I don’t like defensive metrics–especially not zone-based ones–but I sure do love singing the praises of one Aaron Judge. But I also think these figures track well with what we see in right field each night with Judge. The man is a great fielder, and it’s about damn time someone who doesn’t watch the Yankees every night noticed it, too.

The End of the Age of Gregorius?

Ok, dramatic header there, but now we know the obvious: other teams are interested in the services of one Sir Didi Gregorius. Per Jon Heyman:

Gregorius, of course, came up with the Reds as a 22-year-old shortstop back in 2012. He only made 21 plate appearances with the big league club, but we do know the organization there likes him. Gregorius is probably the best middle infielder on the market this offseason, so get ready for more rumors like this as the offseason progresses. For what it’s worth, I expect Didi to fully rebound next season. Also, interestingly enough, MLBTR predicted Gregorius would ultimately land with the Reds. We’ll keep you posted as things develop on this front, of course.

Here’s his grand slam in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Twins because why the hell not:

Yankee (Players) Recruiting Gerrit Cole

No, there’s nothing really to report here (do you think it would be buried here if there was?) but there was one really hilarious thing that I wanted to highlight. On last week’s R2C2 podcast, CC Sabathia had this to say about Gerrit Cole: “you offer that motherfucker enough money, he’s going to want to come here.” I agree, CC. I agree.

He also noted that he’s had “many” conversations with Cole about pitching in the Bronx as a West Coast guy, which I thought was interesting. There’s nothing to read into there, but it’s interesting. He also compared Cole’s free agency to his after 2008, which is fitting. Give it a listen, if, for some reason, you haven’t yet. One final note: it is physically impossible for me to love an athlete more than I love CC Sabathia.

Also, Giancarlo Stanton told TMZ that he wants the Yankees to sign both Cole and Stephen Strasburg, to which I say:

Very good, Giancarlo. Very good. I agree.

Domingo Germán Update

Ken Davidoff and Dan Martin of the New York Post report that MLB’s investigation into Domingo Germán’s alleged physical altercation with Mara Vega, the mother of his children, is expected to wrap up in a few weeks. Germán himself hasn’t spoken to the MLB yet but Vega has, per the reports.

Players don’t get paid while suspended for domestic violence, but Germán was paid while on administrative leave–meaning he’d owe the Yankees money when this is all wrapped up. We will keep you posted as this develops further.

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