Tag: The Bad Times

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.

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.

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.


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.

Thoughts as MLB Considers How to Start Back Up

We are deep in the Bad Times and I have something to admit: I miss baseball a lot. We’re still podcasting and I came up with a survival guide yesterday, but it’s rough waters out there. Opening Day was supposed to be tomorrow, for crying out loud. Tomorrow! Instead, we have to wait even longer to wash the bad taste away from the last time the Yankees took the field in a meaningful game. It turns out that, after all, I do care if they cancel sports. It’s wild.

But what can we do? As I’ve said many times, the league made the right decision with this. That is by far the most important factor in all of this – but that sure isn’t going to stop me from whining anyway. Anyway, here are some thoughts for the day.

1. A New Opening Day: Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel released a new report late last night over at ESPN with the latest news re: MLB and MLBPA’s plans for starting up the season. You should definitely check it out in full. (Another new report says the sides want 140-150 games.) There’s a bunch of new information in there. Here are the key takeaways, in my opinion:

  1. The two camps have “worked toward a potential agreement over the past 10 days” with a goal of starting the season in “early June” and includes “pro-rated” salaries for players, though many officials believe July is more likely;
  2. Players are saying they’d play a “significant number” of doubleheaders, up to two a week (!) in order to get as close to a 162 game schedule as possible; and,
  3. Both sides are theoretically okay with playing regular season games in October and playoff games played a neutral sites stretching into November.

First things first: At this point, it feels very optimistic that games will start up in early June. Obviously, New York has been the epicenter of the outbreak and that’s where I live. Perhaps I am biased, but there are indications that other parts of the country are just a few weeks behind us. How do you manage the fact that some areas will be experiencing the worst of this at different times than other areas? That feels like a logistical challenge that will prove impossible to solve. July, as the other officials noted to Passan, feels much more likely – and it is probably about as late as they can realistically go. We’ll have to see. I want sports to come back too, but we can’t rush this. I really, really hope that the league doesn’t do just that.

(This doesn’t even consider the potential of a player testing positive, either. What happens to the season then? Honesty, all of this feels like wishful thinking to me. But whatever. Let’s just take it at face value for now but with a huge pile of salt.)

Second, it was always obvious that things were going to get weird this season (if it even happens) but I was definitely not prepared for the possibility of multiple doubleheaders a week. Players have historically been resistant to doubleheaders for obvious reasons, even in the 1995 negotiations, but desperate times call for desperate measures. You’d also probably have to expand the active rosters to 30 players or something to make it work. Maybe it’s a pressure point to extract service time concessions from management? Whatever it is, it’s fascinating.

Finally, neutral site playoff games are extremely uninteresting to me…but I don’t know that I have a better alternative. Playing games in front of an empty stadium also sucks! But I still think home-field advantage matters…there is still just an implicit benefit to waking up in your city, sleeping in your bed, etc. Weather is a consideration too, of course, but I’d prefer it if they kept the playoff schedule as close to normal as possible. The regular season is one thing. The playoffs are another beast altogether.

2. A Race to the End Helps the Yankees: Am I crazy or do most of the above scenarios help the Yankees? There’s an obvious caveat that a shorter season creates more volatility. More volatility means a wider possibility of outcomes, etc. That’s all very real and we can’t discount it. As Voros’ Axiom goes, anything is possible in 60 at-bats. We can extrapolate that to a whole season: nearly anything is possible in 60 games, too. Remember how horrible the Nats were last year in the first few months? They won the whole shebang anyway. That’s not happening in 2020.

Now, with all that said, I do think this benefits the Yankees – especially the part about the double headers. The Yankees have a very deep roster and a great bullpen. Those are both critical to having success in a race to the end. As a reminder, here is the likely Yankee bullpen if rosters are still 26 men:

  • Aroldis Chapman (CL)
  • Zack Britton
  • Adam Ottavino
  • Chad Green
  • Tommy Kahnle
  • Jonathan Loáisiga
  • Luis Cessa
  • Jonathan Holder

That’s probably the best bullpen in baseball right there. We’ve already all known this, of course, but it takes on added importance given the circumstances. You can space out guys and limit their repetition and still throw out a top-shelf bullpen. That is a huge, huge luxury that most other teams, if any, won’t have.

Moreover, given the fact that the Yankees will return (hopefully!) at full strength given the delay, they’ll also be able to do the same in the lineup. That so-called “problem” about not knowing where to slot in Andújar if the Opening Day outfield is Stanton/Hicks/Judge just solved itself. And that’s not even considering an expanded roster, which, again, feels inevitable in the above scenario. Funny how that always happens.

All in all, I think the Yankees are well-positioned to survive a sprint to the end, even though a full 162-game schedule would have been to the club’s benefit. But hey, when life give you lemons, you might as well make lemonade, right?

3. Yankee Roster Impacts of a June/July Start: So, at this point, it looks like the Yankees will be at full-strength when things start ramping back up again. Boone said the other day that Giancarlo Stanton is healthy enough to play in games right now. Aaron Judge is seemingly progressing along. Aaron Hicks was slated for a June or July return. James Paxton in mid-May to early-June. Gary Sánchez will have plenty of time to recover from the flu/back aches. Hell, even Zack Britton’s wrist will have time to recover.

Of course, other injuries will follow, as they always do. I’m not suggesting that they won’t, just that the odds are now much better that the Yankees will return at full strength. That is good news, because my note above is predicated on the assumption that, you know, the team will be healthy. Any injuries that happen in 2020 will take on a heightened importance given the shorter timeframe over which games will be played. But we’ll cross that bridge when we have to. For now, it looks like the Yanks will have a full roster (minus Luis Severino, of course) whenever Opening Day is. That’s good news to me. We all need a bit of that these days.

4. Other Downstream Impacts: In the ESPN report, Passan also notes a few other areas potentially impacted of the agreement. These include:

  • Changes to the draft/international signing period
  • A potential transaction freeze, placing an embargo on signings/trades
  • Adjustments to the arbitrations system
  • Payroll for stadium employees/staff (reportedly, Manfred is urging teams to continue to pay them)
  • MiLB payroll structure

I don’t have a whole lot to say about these items, really, since they’re all pretty vague. A few things are clear, though. First, teams should 100% continue to support MiLB players and especially stadium personnel. There is no excuse to not support those workers, who are suffering much, much more than ownership is right now.

Second, please don’t put a moratorium on transactions. Signings and trades are really fun and drive up interest in the game. MLB would be shooting itself in the foot if it did that. (And some injuries would completely devastate a team in that case.) I hope that’s just a rumor in these discussions, which it probably is.

5. High-Profile Arms and Tommy John: Finally, Noah Syndergaard is having Tommy John surgery in what was a pretty shocking new development yesterday. The list of top-shelf players going under the knife now includes Thor, Chris Sale, and Luis Severino. It’s a big bummer, especially for Syndergaard, who is set to be a free agent after 2021. On the bright side, though, at least the season these guys are missing will be this weird, shortened one. Alas, I wish good pitchers would stop needed Tommy John. I love basbeall always but even more when fun, dynamic pitchers like these three are on the mound. Oh well. Again, what can we do?

To close off, let’s all watch highlights from my personal favorite ever Severino start. Enjoy:

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