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A Uniquely Yankee Side Effect of the Lockout: Legacy

Yesterday MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred gave the ringing endorsement that he is “not confident” there will be a 2020 baseball season. This is obviously the last thing any fan of baseball wants to hear, but sadly is not at all surprising given the state of negotiations. However, there is an unseen risk lurking for the New York Yankees: no 2020 season could jeopardize the legacy of these Baby Bombers.

Most observers would agree the 2020 Yankees were well positioned to make a run at the World Series this season following the addition of Gerrit Cole. The core of the New York lineup are all either in their prime or entering it. The best bullpen in baseball is intact. In fact, the delayed start of the season seemed like an even greater boon for the bombers, giving its injured stars the chance to recover their health.

But should 2020 come and go without a baseball season, the opportunity for some players to put their stamp on history and etch their name into Yankee lore could be jeopardized.

This team was uniquely positioned this year to succeed. If 2020 counts as a year served, then Masahiro Tanaka, DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton and J.A. Happ would all become free agents, causing half the Yankee rotation and the team’s best pure hitter to vanish.

It would also mean the clock ticks one year closer to the post arbitration years for Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, meaning one less season for those two to prove that their magical rookie seasons weren’t just a fluke, and they deserve a long term deal.

This brings me to the thought I have been wrestling with the past week; what will the legacy of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez be?

In 2017, Yankee fans were still savoring what they saw from Gary Sanchez the season before, when he hit .299 over 53 games to place second in Rookie of the Year voting, when a six-foot-seven rookie by the name of Aaron Judge took the league by storm, hitting a then rookie record 52 home runs, which also led the American League, while unanimously winning Rookie of the Year and finishing second to Jose Altuve in the MVP race.

Overnight Judge became a fan favorite, with a rise to stardom that was not only reminiscent of Derek Jeter in 1996, but may have actually surpassed it. After all, the Captain never had a section of Yankee Stadium named after him. It seemed as though the torch of the Captain had finally been relit after being dormant for three years.

Then things changed. Health issues have plagued the star right fielder, as well as Sanchez, who we could call Judge’s Posada, and Luis Severino, who would be the Andy Pettitte of this new core. Certainly no one has forgotten the magic of that 2017 season, when all three were healthy and led the Yanks on a run no one saw coming. Now though, the magic is fading because in the Bronx there is only one way to cement a legacy: win it all.

In 2017 it looked like Aaron Judge would be the next Derek Jeter, the face of the franchise, the torch barer who would lead the Yankees to ring number 28 and more, become the next legend forever immortalized in Yankee lore. At the age of 28 though, Judge is running out of time to cement that legacy.

After the 2022 season, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will both hit free agency barring a new contract, both at the age of 30. This may seem young, but for comparison Gleyber Torres will turn 26 that offseason. It will be difficult for Brian Cashman to justify giving both long term contracts at that age unless they can prove durable and return to the effectiveness they showed their rookie seasons, especially when the likes of Clint Frazier continues to waste his pre-arbitration days in Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Thus, Judge and Sanchez need there to be some level of a 2020 season, or at the very least not see one of their arbitration years wasted, in order to show that they deserve that contract, that they can be the new dynasty, because make no mistake, even the rosiest of rookie seasons won’t shield you from the standards of the Bronx, and that standard is championships.

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