Imagine where the New York Yankees would be right now had the COVID-19 pandemic never occurred.
As the calendar flips to the month of May, would the Bombers be riding a hot start with an early lead in the division? Or would the club with lofty expectations limp through the season's first month, patiently awaiting the return of its ailing stars.
It's impossible to predict what record this star-studded club would have had entering the second month of the season – although plenty of simulations have attempted to do so. With that in mind, allow your imagination to wander. Let's consider what could have been, and more importantly, what we could have learned about this year's New York Yankees so far.
Record through April
Yes, I did just say it's impossible to predict what the Yankees' record would have been at this point of the season. Don't worry, we're not throwing any specific numbers at you! Just providing some context before we get specific...
The first month of this year's schedule featured plenty of series against divisional opponents for the Yankees, as well as several opportunities to beat up on lower-tier teams. In fact, missing out on April was arguably a reasonable blow when it comes to New York roaring out of the gates and easing comfortably into the summer.
Of course all of that is out the window now. We don't even know which proposal Major League Baseball will end up choosing once given the green light to begin the 2020 campaign. Or if we get to that point, I should say.
If you're interested, here's how the Yankees have fared thus far in two simulations of the 2020 regular season that SI's Inside The Pinstripes has been following.
- Baseball-Reference: 22-9 through April 30 (1st in AL East)
- Strat-O-Matic: 20-12 through April 30 (2nd in AL East)
This first month would have also been a hint as to what New York was up against with the surging Tampa Bay Rays. Is their pitching staff, positional flexibility and modern approach from a coaching perspective ready to contend with the mighty Yankees? After all, they did win 96 games a year ago.
If the Rays happened to take a commanding lead in the division early on, the pressure for New York to produce entering May would have been heightened.
Persistent injury bug or an early cure
Seems like the only silver lining of the COVID-19 shutdown is that it's allowed New York extra time for its injured players to recover.
Knowing what we know now, odds are April would have been played without Aaron Judge. In fact, I'd wager to say he would have ended up on the injured list early on to allow another outfielder to add some depth and get some starting reps in his place (we'll get to who that would have been shortly, so sit tight).
Judge has taken full advantage of this hiatus thus far. Skipper Aaron Boone confirmed just over one week ago that the delay to Opening Day has allowed the stress fracture in his first right rib to "continue to heal."
The same applies for Giancarlo Stanton – who would've returned early this past month – as well as James Paxton and Aaron Hicks slowly working their ways back from surgery.
Those four would eventually return – that's not necessarily what fans would've been keeping an eye on as much if games were being played everyday. The big question for the season's first month, however, was can this club move on from an injury-riddled campaign a year ago and stay healthy.
If more key contributors happened to go down, this team might've dug itself into a hole early. Remember, no Luis Severino for all of 2020. Then again, this team does have quite a bit of depth and players ready to perform in expanded roles when given the opportunity...
Who are New York's next men up in 2020
Injuries plagued the Yankees in 2019, but also forged a path for certain breakout performances. While 30 different players spent time on the IL, Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela, Mike Ford and more made their presence felt.
Plus, let's not forget that DJ LeMahieu didn't even have a spot in the Bombers' Opening Day starting lineup and yet he ended up fourth in the race for American League MVP.
That's not to say someone who didn't start in this season's opener would have been a contender for MVP – although we'll never know – but plenty of position players showcased their abilities in Grapefruit League play this spring.
With Judge and Hicks on the injured list to start the season, April would have been an audition for Clint Frazier and Miguel Andújar in the outfield. Both those two extra base hit machines struck the ball well in Spring Training as Frazier looked to power his way in the lineup and Andújar expanded his defensive versatility.
With Brett Gardner entering his age-36 season, and no need to risk further injury with Stanton in the outfield everyday, an abundance of playing time through the first month could have been available for that pair. Would their defense hold up?
Even non-roster invitee Rosell Herrera was unstoppable at the plate in the spring. Maybe he could've been on the big-league roster in April.
Either Boone and the coaching staff would have a good problem on their hands – with stars returning from injury while depth has performed admirably in their place – or know they still have a job to do in order to decide who should fill the final few spots of the 26-man roster.
Fifth starter and rotation durability
Similarly, with Severino set to miss all of the 2020 season after Tommy John surgery, a vacant spot sat at the bottom of New York's starting rotation.
All the speculation this spring would have been sorted out by now. Jonathan Loaisiga had positioned himself to occupy the No. 5 slot in the rotation after a magnificent performance this spring. The Bombers' new pitching coach Matt Blake even hinted at the right-hander assuming a new role behind Jordan Montgomery in the starting staff had the campaign begun on schedule.
There were other options though. Would top pitching prospects Deivi Garcia or Clarke Schmidt have made their debut through the season's first month? Perhaps right-handers Luis Cessa or Michael King could have made a start by now.
Staying healthy was poised to be integral for the success of the Yankees' rotation. With Paxton's return slated for mid-May, and all the pressure on Gerrit Cole as the ace of the staff, J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka's health were set to be crucial. Would the Bombers have known by now that they can count on those two moving into the summer?
Shortstop of the future?
Gleyber Torres – you know, the 23-year-old phenom – would be coming off his first full month as the Yankees' full-time starting shortstop as the calendar flips to May.
After 38 home runs last year, in his sophomore season, I think it's fair to expect Torres would be firing on all cylinders on offense. In fact, he would have been approaching a milestone in the homer department had the season started on time.
But what about his defense?
At one point this spring, Torres was tied for the league lead in errors. It wasn't necessarily time to panic about his defense – as he reassured this offseason that shortstop is the position where he's most comfortable – but certainly worth noting now that it was his job to lose following Didi Gregorius' free-agency departure.
With a month under his belt, persisting issues would have given the coaching staff an indication that he may be better served at second base – that would of course shake up the Bombers' starting crew. Perhaps this month could have been the precursor to a trade for Francisco Lindor down the road if the Indians started off their campaign poorly.
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