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Yankees mailbag: J.A. Happ’s contract, and how the pandemic could affect 2021

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Here are the answers to this week’s mailbag.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Good afternoon everybody, we’ve made it through another week. We’ve got three answers on hand, all pretty much dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

J Slagle asks: With an expanded season that could last to late November/early December, the players and teams in those final rounds will have an extremely truncated off-season. How does all this affect the 2021 season? GM and Winter meetings, free agency, spring training... That’s a lot to cram into a short off-season. Would the 2021 season be delayed or shortened to compensate for the abbreviated off-season?

The short answer: I don’t know, nor does anyone know, how exactly a potentially condensed 2020 season will impact the 2021 season. I do know, however, that the idea that this season will affect the next campaign is one the league has to consider, and likely already has.

To the extent that fans are worrying about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect future sports seasons in the face of far more pressing and tragic concerns, followers of the game probably should prepare for COVID-19 to impact baseball beyond 2020. As you note, a season that extends towards the winter leaves baseball with a heck of lot do in a short amount of time. Teams need to prepare and execute offseason plans, players need to rest, recover, and rebuild, and the league needs to reset by the next spring training.

Just as a condensed season this year could lead to more injuries, perhaps a condensed offseason would lead to more injuries as well, with players given less down time. Perhaps fewer players get to focus on the development of their skills. Maybe teams use the condensed time frame as an excuse to be more conservative on the trade and free agent markets. This is all pure speculation, but it seems likely that there will be unintended consequences if this current season lasts to Thanksgiving.

I have no idea if the World Series ending in late November would lead to a shortened 2021 season, but this is probably the sort of thing we should be keeping in the back of our minds when it comes to sports, and everything else really. It’d be great to get things back to normal as soon as possible, but the reality is, things in sports and in the world aren’t likely to feel normal for quite a while.

Buddy Bear asks: With the possibility of cancellation/postponement, how does J.A. Happ’s contract fit? If he doesn’t play can his negotiated option be declined?

A theme is emerging here, as again, I’m not sure anyone knows exactly how something like a vesting option will be handled this year. Still, we can of course offer speculation.

Happ signed a two-year, $34 million deal with a $17 million vesting option for 2021. The option hits if Happ pitches 165 innings or makes 27 starts in 2020. While Happ would have had a shot had a full 2020 been played, there is now essentially no chance of Happ hitting either of those benchmarks.

My guess is that either A) Happ’s option simply won’t vest, because he fails to reach the parameters, or B) some prorated standard is set based on the number of games actually played in 2020. For example, if MLB holds an 81-game season, perhaps vesting options will hit if the players in question manage to reach one-half of their previously agreed upon benchmarks.

The idiot that said, “Harper is coming” asks: We NEED baseball, right? Nearly the entire country is currently shut down and only “essential” businesses are employing “essential” employees open at the moment. Somehow, Dunkin Donuts is essential? NYS Thruway toll operators are essential? Our ideas of what is considered essential vary greatly depending on who you ask. I am a believer that entertainment is essential. Obviously, there are safety measures that must be taken, but we need something to occupy our time. We NEED a distraction, for mental health purposes at least.

I’m not here to opine on what businesses and what workers are dubbed essential in a pandemic. I can tell you, however, no, we don’t need baseball right now.

I desperately want baseball, that’s for sure. But we’ve already gone a month without it. We go about four or five months without it every offseason. It hurts tremendously not to have it when we’re accustomed to, at a time when we could use it more than ever, but if we’ve survived this long without it, we can survive much longer.