Now is the Winterball of Our Discontent

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the 2020 Major League Baseball World Series Champions. Congratulations were in order two weeks ago but I’m just getting around to it because the New York Yankees were eliminated in the ALDS which means, for me, my deep emotional investment in the season is largely over. In the last two years, even, once the Yankees are out of it baseball becomes almost solely Work Chore, as I don’t even really gamble on it often. In 2020, I was grateful to have baseball at all, so I soaked up the post-season entirely, and I’ve always found it uncouth to do a season autopsy or begin fretting about free agency until the World Series is properly over and offseason news begins to trickle in.

I did not want baseball, or any sport really, in 2020. It made sense to me for the NBA and NHL to bubble up and finish out their postseasons, soccer without fans is extremely weird, football has proven to have pretty bad transmission rates, but baseball seemed to present unique challenges and I wasn’t sure it was worth the risk. Predominantly, I have believed that a lot of Rona’s worst carnage could’ve been avoided if people were paid to stay home, really stay home, for like two or three months, and that revving up a live entertainment machine would ultimately undermine the half-measures being undertaken in May and June no matter what kind of mitigation effort was undertaken.

Then, Rob Manfred, a man I revile like one would hold a particularly rancid bile for a war criminal, squanders weeks of potential playing time quibbling with the Player’s Union in a deliberate move meant to exhaust negotiators and float trial balloons ahead of 2021’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Coming hot off the heels of completely mismanaging the investigative and disciplinary process of the Houston Trash Can scandal, Rob digs his heels to further fuck up my favorite sport by announcing a “temporary” expanded playoffs format for 2020’s abbreviated season, a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and throws a runner on second at the start of extra innings. A lot of these changes are obvious steps in the pursuit of Manfred’s White Whale: speeding the pace of baseball games to attract new fans, and is largely done to the detriment of longtime fans’ enjoyment. I hate them and so should you. They make the pool of strategies a shallower place, and baseball is already too focused on trying to sail the ball over your head every third or fourth at-bat hoping every game hits the over in an effort to retain more casual viewers.

Part of not wanting a season was selfish, too. I sauntered into 2020 baseball fired up. I was ready! A new pinstripe jersey, a frothing hatred of Houston that rivaled my lifelong animosity towards essentially the entire city of Boston, and a thirst for revenge with what looked to be the fabled but frequently faulty New York Yankees as a “FULLY OPERATIONAL DEATH STAR.” Severino goes down for the year, Judge is battling some kind of rib/core injury, and before Spring Training could even really get going, everything was suspended. “Maybe by the time they work out how to have a season safely, some of our guys will have healed up!” I thought.

And it ended up being… not really that bad. It was kind of a fun season! Some guys opted out and that’s ok. Had a player been forced to retire permanently due to long-term effects or God forbid died, especially in wake of the contentious negotiations on player safety and compensation between the league and the union, I don’t think it would’ve been worth it. The worries I had of an abbreviated season “cheapening” the typical marathon run that is an MLB season were ultimately unfounded. I remarked in the middle of the year to a Cleveland fan I know that I wasn’t sure how I would feel about having championship 28 be from a 60-game season:

“Do we even get a ring? Or like an AA chip keychain?” I laughed. “I don’t know if I’d want to win if I’d have to argue everyone else’s asterisk.”

“Oh, I’d still want to win,” he replied.

That kind of settled that for me. I hated the expanded playoff move, and still hope it isn’t implemented in a potentially full-length 2021 season, but in the end, the two teams with the best records in baseball ended up in the World Series despite baseball having a better “Any Given Sunday” parity rate than most sports. The automatic runner on second in extra innings kind of made a lot of sense in a season that saw grueling schedules lead to injury-prone players. The three-batter rule for pitchers is still complete and utter dog shit, I’ll rail against it until it is repealed by a commissioner that actually enjoys this sport. The Dodgers, no asterisk, are the MLB Champions, 2020 baseball was good, and that World Series was an all-time classic. I’m glad it happened.

Yankee-specific ruminations to follow.

One of the bigger challenges of the abbreviated season is that the traditional statistics you could look at to find out if your team or players on your team are struggling are skewered onto a shorter curve, making trend analysis more difficult. Does Gary Sanchez suck? Is DJ LeMahieu worth the amount of money the Yankees should throw at him? Has Ardolis Chapman proven to be a flash-in-the-pan choke artist? This can even apply to managers: Aaron Boone has a pretty good record as a manager at .615 after three years but does he rely too much on The Binder, like Girardi did, and also struggle in high pressure postseason situations? It’s hard to tell, but guys are in contract years, so it isn’t like they can wait until 2021 to make evaluations here.

Stanton finally won me over this year. Showing up the way he did in the postseason really bought a lot of goodwill from me after a ton of frustrations around how injury prone he is. I’ve never liked the pick up for a lot of the same reasons I never liked the Alex Rodriguez pick up either, but Stanton came up clutch and seems to be as genuinely pissed off as most fans get about getting sidelined. The story with the Yankees the last two years has been the injuries and the subsequent depth of the farm system. There’s talk of dangling him out as trade bait but I think having to hold any bag on that massive contract is untenable for the Yankees.

LeMahieu, the 2020 batting champion, is a no-brainer. It must be done. He wants to be there, you want him there, just get it done. It’s my understanding that there’s been something like an $18+ million qualifying offer declined already so his agent is definitely playing hard ball, but I’d hate to see a guy like end up in Boston or with the Mets, which is the word on the street. I’m not getting all Chicken Little over declined qualifying offers, there’s a lot of negotiating to be done, and if I did, I’d be despondent about Brett Gardner, who I believe should retire a Yankee, also being in the same boat. Not getting Didi Gregorious a ring and retaining him is going to tear me up for the rest of my life as a fan, and I don’t think I could stand to watch Gardner play for like the Tigers for two seasons before probably hanging it up without getting inappropriately upset about it. Losing “clubhouse guys” messes with team chemistry and morale, I think, because I’m sentimental.

Does anyone know what’s going on with Domingo German? Is there a player with more of a shroud of secrecy regarding whether or not he’s an active baseball player? It would be kind of an important thing to figure out as contract negotiations for Tanaka unfold and Cashman starts searching the league for pitchers to poach. Tight Pants Tommy Kahnle is probably out until the middle of next year and the bullpen wasn’t quite the secret weapon it was hyped up to be during the 2020 season. Chapman giving up the season two years in a row on walk-offs leaves me with a lot of really confusing feelings, too.

Keep Boone. Either quit calling him in the middle of the game with word from the nerds or stop drawing up weird chess move contingencies that the staff feels compelled beyond rational thought to use as some kind of unshakable, statistically favorable set of protocols. From a franchise perspective, I don’t think Judge is going anywhere, and that most of the talk is clickbait reporters drumming shit up. I don’t think Lindor ends up in Yankee Stadium either.

Huge restructuring of the farm affiliates happened this week. The Trenton Thunder and the Staten Island Yankees were both cut out in favor of other locations. I’m not nearly deep into minor league ball to weigh in on it, but apparently there’s a lot of animosity over this, it’s been kind of a rug-yanking scenario if you believe the Thunder’s telling of events, and I’m not sure what the implications are regarding a stronger farm system.

Alex Cora and AJ Hinch are both coming back to baseball, but I’m waiting to weather a potentially traumatic free agency and offseason period before I really get all that angry about the Integrity of The Game going into 2021. It pisses me off, probably Hinch more so than Cora, but I think the election is still taking up too much RAM for me to spool too much processing power for baseball until pitchers and catchers report, or if I find out LeMahieu signed with the Brewers or something. Anything Rob Manfred is allowed to enshrine into the game will undoubtedly be bad, so I’m waiting for that rat fuck to sneak in a permanent expansion of the playoff bracket or the institution of a compulsory aluminum bat rule sometime in January during a busy news cycle.

The Tampa Bay Rays reaching the World Series against a stacked Dodgers team and turning it into a six-gamer told me that baseball is fine: a smaller market with terrible stadium attendance and an extremely low payroll compared to the rest of their division were totally capable of grinding out to the championship and holding their own against one of the richest teams in baseball, riding high on a lucrative twelve year contract of a generational talent in Mookie Betts. As a Yankee fan, I’m more afraid of Tampa Bay than Boston these days.

I’m not sweating the “lowest rated World Series ever” or whatever the numbers were as a barometer for the vitality of the game. If anything, this should reinforce that baseball’s parity, and thus a reason to get invested in even your own smaller market team, is the best in sports. While I’m not 100% sure it was the best idea to hold a season amidst a pandemic, the “Spanish Flu” didn’t stop players from masking up and playing ball and I think the MLB did what it set out to accomplish: make a lot of money with a captive audience and provide something that helped people think about anything but a lethal pandemic killing scores of people and give us a sliver of normalcy. My complete appreciation is due to the players and workers who helped put on The Show in the middle of a fucking plague.

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