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:
- 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;
- 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,
- 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: