Is there an injury update on Aaron Judge?
-- Scott K., Wappingers Falls, N.Y.
Judge remains in the Tampa, Fla., area and has been utilizing the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex as he rehabs from the stress fracture in his first right rib that was diagnosed in March following a battery of exams. As you probably know, the Yankees believe that injury stems from an attempted diving catch in the Yankee Stadium outfield last September.
Judge said in March that a follow-up CT scan showed "slight healing," adding that a previously unreported pneumothorax (collapsed lung) has been resolved, so he is able to fly if necessary. While chatting with NBA star Damian Lillard on adidas' "The Huddle" Instagram Live show, Judge expressed optimism that he could return to swinging and throwing soon.
"It's going good," Judge told Lillard. "We were in Spring Training, just getting the season going. Having a broken rib, I should be back doing a little more here in about a week or two, and then hopefully have some answers on when the season starts. It's crazy times."
Having these unexpected extra weeks to recover, it appears that Judge is attempting to avoid the mistakes that he made in the wake of last year's playoff exit, when he rushed into an offseason program. Judge has said that if he had known how significant the rib injury was, he would have approached his winter differently.
"I think the consistent swinging and weightlifting throughout the whole offseason really didn't give it the chance to [heal]," Judge said. "If somebody breaks their leg and they're in a cast, they're immobilized for a couple weeks or months. You give the bone a chance to heal. But I was [upset] about how the season ended last year, so I went right back to it. We've all been through pain, bumps and bruises. In my head, I felt like it was something that I could fight through, and I think that kind of cost me a little bit there."
Of the Yankees' pending free agents, who do you see as being the greatest priority to re-sign?
-- Jack P., West Nyack, N.Y.
In February, DJ LeMahieu expressed his desire to stay with the Yankees while saying that there had been no discussions of a new contract to that point. The financial situation is obviously more complicated now than it was in those early days of Spring Training, but it is difficult to envision the Yankees allowing LeMahieu to walk, considering manager Aaron Boone and others lauded him as the team's most valuable player in 2019.
Masahiro Tanaka has been a terrific Yankee, and considering how he handled the opt-out clause in his contract after the 2017 season (Tanaka said he "followed what my heart was saying" in bypassing a chance to become a free agent), it seems likely that his preference would be to return to New York. Personally, I would prioritize LeMahieu and Tanaka, then decide on James Paxton based upon how he performs in 2020.
How would the Yankees' roster look if the season started in June?
-- Julian G., Oakland, N.J.
Boone has said that the silver lining to the shutdown is that the Yankees should be healthy, for the most part, when an Opening Day date is set. Judge is essentially in an offseason rehab program, so he'd need to advance toward facing live pitching and throwing at distances of 120 feet or more before being a realistic option, but Paxton and Giancarlo Stanton should be ready to go by then. Stanton probably would be in the Yanks' lineup right now if they were playing.
If we follow the timetable of Didi Gregorius' recovery from Tommy John surgery, then Aaron Hicks could be an option sometime in June, though Hicks cautioned last month that Gregorius' recovery was a perfect example. It seems like a safer bet that Hicks, who has been performing physical therapy three times a week while swinging a bat and throwing at home in Arizona, would be a safer bet for July.
What would the rotation look like if the season started today?
-- Greg P., Clearwater, Fla.
Had the season started on time, pitching coach Matt Blake has indicated that the club was strongly considering having Jonathan Loaisiga handle a variety of assignments.
"Loaisiga was an interesting option," Blake said earlier this month. "We kicked that around. Whether it was a full starter or opener or kind of a Swiss Army Knife role, but he had obviously really taken a step forward for us this year, which was exciting to see."
The top spots in the rotation project as being assured to Cole, Tanaka and J.A. Happ, with Jordan Montgomery all but having locked up the No. 4 spot with a strong spring. Paxton is throwing at home in Wisconsin and has said that he could be ready to pitch in big league games by the middle of May. A healthy Paxton would likely push Montgomery back to No. 5, placing Loaisiga's role in question.