How MLB's Decision to Delay Opening Day Affects Yankees

Max Goodman

Due to the national emergency created by the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball elected to cancel all remaining Spring Training games and delay Opening Day for at least two weeks on Thursday.

As the league buckles down, working to secure the health and safety of the league's players, staff and fans, it's tough to think about the game of baseball. 

Giancarlo Stanton wisely explained on Thursday that this unprecedented sequence of events reminds us all that "that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports."

READ: Yankees react to Spring Training cancelations, Opening Day postponement and COVID-19 pandemic

Nonetheless, barring further escalations in the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, there will eventually be an Opening Day. Per Commissioner Rob Manfred's announcement, the regular season opener is now scheduled to be played on April 9 (at the earliest). That gives the Yankees an additional two weeks to recuperate from injuries, sort out roster battles and prepare for the 2020 season.

Here's three different ways postponing the regular season positively impacts the Yankees:

Sluggers have time to get healthy

Had Opening Day gone on to transpire as originally planned – a road game against the Orioles on March 26 – both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would not have been on the field. 

Both outfielders were ruled out of playing in the regular season's opener with respective injuries. Judge has a stress fracture in his first right rib while Stanton is recuperating from a Grade 1 right calf strain sustained during fielding drills last month. 

While Stanton has already returned to baseball activity – launching a home run in live batting practice on Wednesday at the Yankees' spring facility – Judge awaits an imminent re-evaluation and word on whether or not he'll require surgery.

“For me, I wouldn’t mind a couple more weeks to recover,” the right fielder joked to reporters on Thursday.

Judge described that since a CT scan revealed a conclusive diagnosis one week ago, he's been "progressing really well," effectively working through cardio and weight-lifting programs. He has yet to hit or throw.

“I feel like I might be ahead of schedule," Judge said. "I don't know what the schedule is, but I'm kind of pushing their timeline as much as I can. We're going to start ramping up things here. I'm trying to get the CT scan done as soon as I can.”

The Yankees believe their star right fielder sustained his rib injury on a diving catch attempt last September. Since it occurred almost six months ago, unbeknownst to the organization until last week, the stress fracture has already shown signs of healing. If Judge's next CT scan shows more improvement, he could be cleared to resume on-field baseball activity in the near future. 

With an additional two weeks to work with before kicking off the regular season – and potentially more – an appearance on Opening Day for these two sluggers is all of a sudden back on the table. 

Even for backstop Gary Sánchez, southpaw Zack Britton and any other player that was banged up over the course of Spring Training. Proper rest can be taken and durability can be built with more time before the team's next game.

READ: Gary Sánchez's back soreness, combined with flu-like symptoms, are keeping the catcher off the field. What happens next?

For now, Judge doesn't want to set a specific date for when he expects to be ready to suit up. His plan is to take his time and ensure once he does return, it'll be for the long haul.

“I don't want to put myself in a box and say middle of April and then answer questions on April 15: ‘Hey, why weren't you in there?'" Judge told reporters. “So we'll see. I'm trying to push the timeline and I want to come back healthy and strong. I don't want to come back and rush it. I'll be ready for games in October and the rest of the season, but I'm going to be smart about it and get back to my team when I can.”

Decisions, decisions

With Major League Baseball set to institute several new rules for the 2020 regular season, manager Aaron Boone and New York's coaching staff have more decisions to make than usual at this point in the spring.

Who will fill the final, additional spot on the Yankees' bench as rosters expand from 25 to 26 players? Could a non-roster invitee like Rosell Herrera – who had a magnificent spring – earn a spot? Will the Bombers turn to those who made appearances as reserves in 2019? 

These selections are easier said than done. Plenty of internal assets have proven themselves with promising performances this spring. Perhaps a combination of utilityman Tyler Wade, outfielder Clint Frazier, lefty first baseman Mike Ford or even Thairo Estrada (who played four different positions in 2019) could get the nod. 

In the bullpen, who will the Yanks call upon to satisfy long reliever duties? Have experienced hurlers like Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa – who both excelled on the mound this spring – earned expanded roles?

Specifically on offense, these choices are partially contingent upon the health and readiness of Judge and Stanton. With at least four weeks from now until Opening Day, there's more time to sort these roster battles out and avoid a rushed judgement that this club could regret down the road.

Are you ready, kids?

As decisions are made, more time can be devoted to making improvements based upon where certain players struggled this spring. 

In the Yankees' rotation, top pitching prospects Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt – who have yet to make their Major League debuts – are candidates to fill the vacant fifth spot left behind by an injured Luis Severino. Mike King's name is also in the mix. 

Spring Training was a first taste of pitching to live big-league hitters for some of the organization's youngest arms. Now, pitching coach Matt Blake can comfortably look back at their performances and distinguish what each young arm needs to work on in order to make the Majors.

For a pitcher like Garcia – who hasn't turned 21 yet and finished Grapefruit League play with a 7.36 ERA – time in invaluable. Or for Schmidt – who doesn't currently have a spot on the 40-man roster – he'll have a few more chances to prove himself in front of the big-league coaches and against some of the league's best hitters. 

On Thursday, Boone explained that although plans are subject to change, the team will continue to work out at their Spring Training facility despite the cancelation of all games moving forward. With simulated games, live batting practice and more on the horizon, prospects have a golden opportunity to showcase their skills and make improvements that will resonate with their teammates and coaching staff.

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