Given the reports of stalled progress (if there ever was any progress) in talks between MLB players and owners, it’s easy to feel pessimistic about the resumption of the 2020 season. Depressingly, there’s even a chance their present discord spills into 2021, as well.
Setting aside for a moment the broader implications for the sport, the cancellation of baseball this year would also be the culmination of several deflating seasons for Yankees fans. Since 2017, the team has had to navigate myriad injuries to its stars and square off against postseason opponents who were proven to cheat.
If bad feelings between players and owners persist into next season, we could be looking at five solid years of miserable breaks for this promising iteration of the Yankees.
Yet despite all the setbacks and misfortune, the organization’s approach to team-building has kept their window of contention wedged open.
After years of stockpiling veteran talents who failed to live up to their billing, Brian Cashman and the Yankees have shaped a relatively young, resilient roster. Even in the worst (worst worst worst) case scenario, in which the 2021 season is also lost to a labor dispute, the team could still have a talented, prime-age nucleus to start again after the smoke has cleared.
As of today, Aaron Judge is 28 years old. Gary Sanchez and Jordan Montgomery are 27, while Luis Severino is still only 26. Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, and Tyler Wade are 25, and as every broadcaster will remind you, Gleyber Torres is just 23.
The team hasn’t wavered in the face of injuries to key players like Judge, Sanchez, and Severino during crucial developmental years, and Cashman has yet to take the bait when suitors have come calling for Andujar and Frazier.
And more young players are knocking at the door. With respect to the rotation alone, Mike King, Clarke Schmidt, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Deivi Garcia are all 25 and under, and have flirted with serious big-league time. And if we want to indulge our wildest dreams, switch-hitting phenom Jasson Dominguez could be waiting in the wings in a couple years as the next teenage game-changer.
That said, the future Yankees’ roster won’t rely entirely on young talent. The team has veteran studs under contract who are far from ancient; by the end of 2021, Gerrit Cole will be 31, and Giancarlo Stanton will be 32 — hardly has-beens.
Admittedly, big question marks still remain. Who knows what becomes of the pitching staff?
Major contributors to the rotation such as Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton might leave in free agency, and some of the team’s bullpen arms have considerable mileage. Like Tanaka and Paxton, the Yankees’ go-to relief quartet of Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle are all on the wrong side of 30.
And though it’s painful to admit, there’s no guarantee that DJ LeMahieu, vital as he was to last year’s success, will still be with the team.
Plus, the young core highlighted above will soon need new contracts. In the wake of the tense collective bargaining that’s sure to come, the delicate alchemy of roster construction might look very different from its current form. It would be a shock if the Yankees could retain every guy under 30 — and even more impressive if they all proved themselves indispensable.
But every team will face such troubling unknowns. By committing to youth, the Yankees engineered a setup far less fragile than previous versions, when the team was laboring under mediocre production from older players, and lacked exciting prospects in the farm system.
Baseball, like the world at large, is suffering from extreme uncertainty. And though it seems like meager consolation at the moment, there is the small silver lining that the Yankees could emerge from this distressing period with hope.
Thanks to a clear vision for a young and robust roster, the team has survived the storms of the past few years, and looks poised to weather the ones ahead. Here’s hoping they won’t have to.