Yankees: A lost 2020 season will leave Brian Cashman with contract questions

New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

If the 2020 MLB season is canceled, the New York Yankees front office will be forced to make some critical contract decisions without having seen a single player perform on the field. A full lost season of evidence at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic could make some decisions tough.

A number of important cogs on the roster will be entering free agency in 2020 including two tops arms and the MVP of the 2019 season.

Without a 2020 season, Cashman will be playing a guessing game as to where the team’s needs will be in 2021. He’ll need to trust his gut. Would players be able to stay healthy for a full season? Would young players take the next step and push a veteran option aside?

Those questions may not be answered in 2020. And that leaves Cashman and company in an extremely tough predicament especially with a number of young stars staring down the barrel of big-money extensions in the coming seasons.

Three important Yankees are set to be free agents at the end of the 2020 season. James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and D.J. LeMahieu.

Where the Yankees front office face the toughest choice are with the pair of veteran pitchers, Paxton and Tanaka. Both are turning 32 in November, a tough age for franchises to commit big money to, especially pitchers.

Tanaka, who has pitched with a partially torn UCL for years, could be considered an injury risk but he has been able to make 30-plus starts in three of the last four seasons.

Thanks to a few clunkers, Tanaka’s 2019 season looks much worse than it actually was. He was crushed in his London Series starts (0.2 IP, 6 ER) and manager Aaron Boone left him out to dry in a July start in Boston (3.1 IP, 12 ER).

Putting those starts aside, Tanaka’s numbers were on par with his career averages. Throw in the impact of a juiced baseball, it doesn’t look like he was slowing down.

Plus, Tanaka was his typical self in the postseason. Since 2017, Tanaka has become the most trustworthy starter in the postseason, something that may earn him a new contract this offseason.

The 2020 season would have been the final piece to the puzzle for a decision Cashman needed on Tanaka. Could he string together another solid season and get a multi-year deal, putting him in a position to retire as a Yankee? Or would he show signs of wear, making him expendable as other young players move in on spots in the starting rotation?

On the other hand, Paxton enters 2020 with something to prove. In truth, he won over the majority of the fanbase with a gutty performance in Game 5 of the ALCS (6 IP, 1 ER).

However, his 2019 campaign was up and down, to say the least. After a hot start to the season, the middle of his season was one to forget. Thankfully, he ended the year with four wins in September/October and a sparkling 1.05 ERA.

More question marks surround Paxton than do Tanaka, much of which revolves around injuries. Paxton underwent back surgery before the season started and was slated to miss the first couple of months of the season.

The 2020 season would have answered a lot of questions surrounding Paxton. It’s clear that he has the talent to be a front-end starter but could he be reliable. Even if he started the season on the pine, Paxton could have performed well enough to earn a big payday in New York.

If the baseball season is shutdown, Cashman will have to go out on a limb and see if Big Maple is going to stick around for a few more years.

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What also makes Cashman’s life tougher, is he won’t be able to assess the improvements younger arms like Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, and Jonathan Loaisiga may have in 2020.

Throw in the likes of Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German, the Yankees have a plethora of talent that could have made significant jumps in 2020 and saved the Yankees from opening up their wallets to retain a pair of veteran arms.

Without an ability to assess the youth, the Yanks may play it safe, open up the checkbooks and keep Tanaka and/or Paxton around until the next generation is ready to step in.

Shifting focus to LeMahieu, it seems like a no-brainer to bring him back. He was tremendous, posting a .327/.375/.518 line, earning him an All-Star nod, Silver Slugger Award and a top-five MVP finish.

Odds are, he will be back with the Yankees. In this case, it may work out in the Yankees favor money-wise. Another strong season from him and his price tag may have soared threw the roof.

Still, LeMahieu will be 32-years-old by the end of the season and the length of the contract could be a deal-breaker for the Yankees.

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Without baseball in 2020, the Yankees front office will be playing an even more challenging guessing game with a handful of essential members of a team on the cusp of a World Series appearance. Many Yankees faithful live by the words, “In Cashman We Trust”. That saying will be muttered all offseason if there is no baseball this year.