Every day of negotiations that passes brings greater tension between the owners and the union. The players rightfully demand fair compensation in line with the March 27 agreement on prorated salaries, while owners are looking to pay as little money as possible. Whether via a revenue-splitting plan or further pay cuts on top of the prorated salaries, it is clear the owners are trying to recoup as much of the lost revenue through reductions in player payments.
The rancor created by these disagreements has both short and long-term effects. The longer the two sides argue, the closer we approach the prospective start date without an agreement in place. And even with a season in 2020, these bad feelings are sure to spill into the upcoming CBA talks. However, there may be a silver lining in all this for the Yankees.
The most noteworthy modifications in the shortened season proposal include an 82-game regular season, expanded 30-man rosters, an expanded 14-team postseason, and the universal DH. The three facets of the modified season I will be looking at are the expanded rosters and the reformatted playoffs, in addition to the economic fallout and its effect on the upcoming offseason’s negotiations. In all three cases, the Yankees stand to benefit from the outcomes.
With regard to the expanded rosters, the Yankees have a unique opportunity to give their young stars an early taste of major league action. Guys like Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt seemed destined for another year in the minors following their assignments to minor-league spring training and prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the prospect of a 30-man active roster, 20-man “taxi squad,” and possible cancellation of a minor league season, they could have another shot at the big show.
It is important to note that they would almost certainly start the season off the major-league roster, and even if called up, would only serve in bullpen roles. That being said, early experience, and by extension early success, at the major-league level could pay dividends going forward. Imagine the confidence boost for a prospect like Garcia or Schmidt should they prove to the team and to themselves that they are capable of getting guys out in the big leagues. That kind of shot in the arm could springboard them to a more permanent role in the majors the following season.
One of the biggest changes to the league under the proposal is the format of the postseason. The current proposal includes seven teams from each league with the top-seeded team receiving a first round bye. The two remaining division winners and the top wild card host three-game series against the bottom three Wild Card teams. The division winners get to pick their Wild Card opponents with the top Wild Card team facing the remaining team. The winners and the bye team advance to a divisional round, after which a normal postseason proceeds.
The Yankees are best suited to capitalize on this situation. A crapshoot to begin with, this format provides even greater variation in the playoffs, a variation which the Yankees are best situated to withstand The Yankees have arguably the best roster in the bigs from top to bottom on both sides of the ball, one that could even be fully reinforced should players like James Paxton, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks return by season’s start. Having such a complete team gives the Yankees the best resilience against tough opponents and high-pressure situations, as they have more players to rely on to come through in the clutch.
This dominant roster also makes the Yankees the favorite to clinch the bye, as reflected by the preseason Vegas odds. That each of their potentially difficult opponents has to win series to make it to the divisional round gives the Yankees an even greater edge. This means that teams like the Astros and Rays could possibly be knocked off by a lesser opponent, creating an easier road to the World Series for the Yankees. We saw last year how the Astros were a game away from being knocked out by the Rays before even making it to the ALCS.
The final area in which the Yankees stand to benefit is the opportunity to retain pending free agents. The shortened season, and the economic toll it is taking, has grave consequences for the upcoming winter negotiations. Just when it seemed like the spending freeze was lifted this past offseason, it could get even more frigid for players this time around.
Now by no means am I advocating for a depressed market for the Yankees in their walk years or other pending free agents in MLB. That owners would lean on the lost revenue from 2020 as justification to not pay full value is slimy behavior indeed. However, simply not agreeing with a course of action does not deny its possibility.
How does this help the Yankees? First, there could be decreased competition for signings, with owners of smaller-market teams using money lost in 2020 as an excuse for reduced spending. And even if other teams jump in the race for a player, they may not be willing to commit the dollars and years that we saw this past winter. Unfortunately for guys like Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and DJ LeMahieu, although perhaps fortunately for the Yankees, there may be sparse demand for their services. So much so that their prices could fall to the point that the Yankees are willing to retain all three.
Aside from the obvious advantage of reduced fatigue due to fewer games and less travel, the Yankees stand to gain the most from the subtle consequences of the modified season. They could discover stars of the future with the expanded rosters. And even if those standout performances fail to emerge, they could turn to the reliable veterans who may return to the Yankees after encountering a frozen free agent market. Most importantly, the Yankees are in pole position to pursue number 28 under the modified playoff format.