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Yankees mailbag: Qualifying offers for Paxton, Tanaka, and LeMahieu, and a World Series format change

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Get your answers to this week’s mailbag while they’re hot.

Good morning everybody. We are at the end of another week, which does seem to move us closer to a suspected July Opening Day, whether we’re ready for it or not. Here are the answers for this week’s mailbag. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Larry S asks: If the season is not played or is shortened, should the Yankees offer the qualifying off to James Paxton, DJ LeMahieu, or Masahiro Tanaka next season?

I suppose there’s no better time than now to start planning for next offseason. The Yankees have a pretty significant group of contributors slated to hit free agency next season, and that sets up an interesting set of qualifying offer decisions that are complicated by the postponed season.

As a refresher, teams can tender qualifying offers to pending free agents that have not previously received a qualifying offer. The player can accept the offer, a one-year contract that next year should be worth in the neighborhood of $18 million, or reject it and test the market. Should he reject it and sign elsewhere, his new team will be subject to draft pick penalties, while his old team will receive draft pick compensation. The exact level of the compensation and penalties is determined by market size and payroll (if you think this sounds needlessly complicated, you’re not alone).

The Yankees’ qualifying offer decisions on this trio will mostly be dictated by their performance, should the season actually occur. From where we stand now, I think their most prudent course of action would be to tender offers to at least two of them, if not all three.

Roughly $18 million for one year of above-average production is simply not an onerous price to pay for a team like the Yankees. Paxton in LeMahieu in particular have profiled as All-Star caliber players over the past couple years. They will hit their age-32 seasons next year, but even some level of decline would leave them as productive players.

Tanaka has less room to decline and still be a high-level player. In fact, he doesn’t have any room. The right-hander is 31, was worth a combined 4.3 rWAR the past two seasons, and averaged 2.5 WAR per 162 games in that span. That’s good, but it’s not great, and it doesn’t leave Tanaka with much wiggle room. It doesn’t take much to decline from a solid mid-rotation starter to a fringy backend guy.

Even given all that, it might be worth it to tender a qualifying offer to all three from the Yankees’ perspective. Entering 2021, the league will be faced with an unprecedented level of uncertainty. Both teams and players might find it attractive to simply hold things constant on relatively lucrative one-year deals. Signed qualifying offers would give the Yankees a solid baseline of production, and give the players a solid salary and a chance to hopefully regain their footing in a normal year.

Headband RJ asks: What KBO team should Yankee fans adopt?

We ran a poll on this last week, which you kind find here. The top two choices from that poll were the KIA Tigers and the Lotte Giants, so those are a couple of fine selections. I know I’ve personally seen a lot of support for the Giants among some MLB analysts, perhaps because the Giants have earned something of a sabermetric reputation. They also snapped up a pair of writers, Sung-min King and Josh Herzenberg, that wrote for sites like Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs.

If you’re looking for the Yankees of KBO, from what I’ve gathered, the Doosan Bears or the Samsung Lions are your best bets. The Bears are the reigning champs, and have won three of the past five Korea Series. The Lions have been to the most championship rounds, and won the second-most ever, but haven’t been as formidable in recent years. On the other hand, the Tigers have won the most titles overall with 11 championships in the league’s 38-year run.

In the end, I think everyone’s best bet is to watch some KBO ball and decide for themselves what teams they like, which players they find endearing. It’s not quite MLB-caliber, but the KBO certainly provides high-level baseball and entertainment.

NYCKING asks: Should World Series format change from a 2-3-2 format to 2-2-1-1-1 like the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup?

A few years ago, the NBA changed its playoff format so that the team with home-court advantage in the finals played games one, two, five, and seven at home, with the other team playing games three, four, and six at home. Strictly in terms of fairness, I wouldn’t mind seeing the World Series adopt a 2-2-1-1-1 format, though it’s pretty small potatoes either way.

The downside of a 2-3-2 from the perspective of the team with home field is the possibility that the series ends in five games, and the team with the worse record actually gets to play more games at home. This most recently happened in 2015, though the higher-seeded Royals surely had no complaints about closing out the Mets at Citi Field. The last time this format clearly negatively impacted a higher-seeded club was 2008, when the 97-65 Rays lost Game Five and the World Series to the Phillies in Philadelphia.

The 2-2-1-1-1 ensures that the teams will either play the same number of home games, or that the higher seed will play one more home game. On the other hand, the 2-3-2 at least gives the higher seed the double whammy of the final two games at home, and limits the amount of travel for everyone involved. The 2-2-1-1-1 strikes me as more fair to the team that earned the higher seed, but in a sport in which the average home team only expects to have a odds a few percentage points better than a coinflip, the effect isn’t huge either way.