Clint Frazier would have received a shot, and really, when it comes to his life as a Yankee, what more could he have asked for?
The outfielding Aarons, Hicks and Judge, were going to be out months if the 2020 season had started on time, and Giancarlo Stanton likely would have begun the year on the injured list as well. The Yankees were looking at a regular outfield to begin the season of Frazier, Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman, with Miguel Andujar thrown in if he had proven capable of adjusting away from third base.
Frazier could have forced the Yanks to start him more even as healthy players returned. He could have re-established his value to become more desirable in a trade so he could liberate himself from New York’s bat glut and truly start his career.
Now, Yankees camp will open Wednesday with Hicks and Stanton expected to be full goes and Judge trending toward being ready for the 60-game sprint. All three are fragile — then again, so is Frazier. At this moment, Frazier’s path is blocked not just for starting time, but backup play. The Yanks will have an outfield/DH overflow with Gardner, Hicks, Judge, Stanton, Tauchman, Andujar, Mike Ford and Luke Voit.
Frazier doesn’t play first or third (like Andujar) and, thus, even with 30-man rosters for the first few weeks, the righty might not even make the team. Three months ago — especially because he was hitting so well in the exhibition season — a case could have been made that for no Yankee (perhaps no New York player) was starting well more vital. Now, he is looking at being on a taxi squad earning no major league at-bats or service time.
With just 60 games (if MLB is fortunate), the start of the season is kind of the season. So who is it most important for in New York?
1. Yoenis Cespedes: If the season broke wrong for Frazier, it has broken ideally for Cespedes. He would not have started a standard season healthy. Now, he is a full go and the NL will have the DH. Perhaps, having made $130 million-plus, he will not find motivation. But he actually now has a chance to demonstrate worth for 2021 if he can still be an impact hitter. It will be fascinating to see what he has after so much time away.
2. James Paxton: See Cespedes. He would not have started the season healthy with free agency looming. With the financial hit on the industry this season, teams are expecting that the upcoming market is going to be tougher for even a great player such as Mookie Betts. Can the fragile Paxton stay healthy for 12 starts (plus postseason if the Yanks get there) to improve his value? Masahiro Tanaka and likely J.A. Happ also will be free agents out of the Yankees’ rotation.
3. Brodie Van Wagenen: There is a strong sense that a new owner is coming for the Mets. Will he want to keep his inherited GM? Luis Rojas has yet to manage a game and would be on the clock too in this scenario.
4. Gerrit Cole: He has a much smaller window to make a strong first impression. The Yanks’ magic number to win the AL East dwindles with 12 elite starts from Cole.
5. Edwin Diaz: In a 60-game season, each game is equivalent of roughly 2.7 games of a normal schedule. So imagine blowing one of them when you already are starting so far behind with the fan base. Empty stadiums will eliminate the booing, not the pressure.
6. DJ LeMahieu: The industry did not fully understand his value out of Colorado after the 2018 season, and he wound up with a two-year, $24 million pact. He was looking at way more than that after this season in a pandemic-free world. Now?
7. Jacob deGrom: Due to a late start in his career age-wise, deGrom’s Hall of Fame chances are not going to be about accumulation. He essentially needs six more seasons as good as his first six. A third straight Cy Young would be huge. Here is my favorite scenario: He does that by going 12-0 this year, giving him more wins in a 60-game season than in either of his two Cy Young campaigns.
8. Gary Sanchez: Through 60 games last year he was tied for the AL home run lead. But he has been on the injured list four times in the past two seasons, all for lower-body problems. The Yanks do not have the steady comfort of Austin Romine as his backup any longer. Can Kyle Higashioka handle the workload if Sanchez misses time? Missing, for example, 15 games now is 25 percent of the season. Will he ever prove to be a sturdy, steady excellent performer?
9. Marcus Stroman: Another guy who is going to have to find his way in the upcoming tighter free-agent market, like teammates Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha. Stroman and Paxton could be looking at the same suitors. Their past three years: Stroman has a 3.65 ERA and 10 Wins Above Replacement, Paxton is 3.54 and 9.3. Who handles the shortened season better?
10. Deivi Garcia: For the Yankees, put Mike King, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clarke Schmidt into this as well. The Yanks are unlikely to bring back all from Happ, Paxton and Tanaka next year (if I were a betting man, I’d go with Tanaka as the most probable return). They will be looking for cheap rotation alternatives to join Cole, and the Yanks are hoping for a combination of Domingo German, Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino. Who from the Yanks’ group of interesting young arms receive innings and make the most of it to prove they belong for 2021?