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Yankees announce O’Day signing, DFA Heller

It’s been two weeks since we first heard that the Yankees had signed Darren O’Day. Now, the move is official. To make room for O’Day on the 40-man roster, the team designated Ben Heller for assignment. He seemed like the odd man out to me, so this isn’t a big surprise.

The Yankees now have seven days to either trade Heller or place him on irrevocable waivers. I anticipate the team working out a minor trade rather than losing Heller on the waiver wire, though there’s always an outside chance that he sneaks through. After all, the oft-injured righty has pitched in just 31 big league games since 2016.

Heller was one of the four pieces to come over from Cleveland (along with Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and JP Feyereisen) in the Andrew Miller trade. He had some promise as a late inning reliever, but simply hasn’t been able to put things together over an extended stretch due to injuries. Perhaps a change of scenery (but more so better health) will do him some good.

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Yankees non-tender Holder, re-sign Cessa and Heller, tender others

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So long, Jonathan Holder. He was the one player the Yankees non-tendered this evening. Don’t rule out some sort of reunion, but for now, he’s a free agent. Meanwhile, the Yankees came to agreements with Luis Cessa (reportedly $1.05 million) and Ben Heller (undisclosed). While the Yankees didn’t announce any contracts with its other arbitration-eligible players, it’s safe to say that all of them were tendered contracts. Yes, including Gary Sánchez. These players can still come to terms with the Yankees and avoid arbitration.

With Holder gone, the Yankees now have one open spot on the 40-man roster. Maybe they’ll announce DJ LeMahieu soon? We’ll see. Anyway, non-tendering Holder wasn’t a total surprise, but I definitely didn’t expect Heller to return. No details on Heller’s contract yet, but I’m sure it’s below the $700-800k that MLB Trade Rumors projected. As for Cessa: the $1.05 million agreement is below the $1.1-$1.3 million range estimated.

Around the league, there are a few players non-tendered who likely will interest the Yankees. Namely: Kyle Schwarber, David Dahl, Eddie Rosario, and Archie Bradley, among others. We’ll talk about them more in the coming days and weeks.

Earlier this week, we crowdsourced who the Yankees should non-tender tonight. There are some…interesting decisions made by some of you here. But the players with the most votes are those who you would expect.

The upcoming non-tender decisions for the Yankees

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Tomorrow’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the non-tender deadline. In case the sarcasm didn’t come through: this offseason has been so slow and boring that the best we can look forward to is a day when teams cut ties with a bunch of players. To be specific, all players must be tendered a contract for 2021 by 8pm eastern tomorrow if they have not received one yet. This really just affects the arbitration eligible players set to receive substantial raises, though pre-arbitration (i.e. near league minimum) players must receive offers too.

Now, this year will be a little different than usual. Teams are more cost-conscious after a shortened and fanless season, so there’s an expectation that a bunch of players will hit the open market. There have even been rumors that stars like Kris Bryant could non-tendered, though that would really shock me. Still, there will be better players than usual added to this winter’s free agent crop.

As for the Yankees, the front office has decisions to make on eleven arbitration eligible players. I’ve grouped them into three categories: keepers, questionable, and doubtful in terms of the likelihood the Yankees tender them contracts. After that, I’ve added a poll question for you to pick who you’d non-tender. Let’s get to it.

Keepers

Clint Frazier, Chad Green, Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and Luke Voit aren’t going anywhere. All will play important roles on the 2021 squad. The projected arbitration salaries are bargains for this group. There’s really nothing more to add here.

The 40-man roster chopping block

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Before the Yankees can call up Clarke Schmidt or bring in a new player via trade, the front office will have to trim the 40-man roster. That could make for a relatively busy week depending on how active the Yankees are before next Monday’s trade deadline. That’s right, the deadline is just seven days from now.

The Yankees’ full 40-man roster has already been called out by the manager in recent days. In discussing Schmidt potentially joining the team’s rotation, Aaron Boone indicated that the team’s roster status complicates matters. Does that mean Schmidt would already be here if there was a 40-man opening? That’s not totally clear. In any case, the Yankees will have to make space for Schmidt or others in the near-term. Here’s a look at who could go:

Injury List Shuffle Candidates

Luis Severino and Tommy Kahnle are on the 60-day injured list and thus off the 40-man roster, but those two could be joined by others.

Luis Avilán just went on the 10-day injured list with shoulder inflammation, but if there’s something more serious going on there, he could be shifted to the 60-day and open a spot. Imaging revealed nothing more than the inflammation, however.

Kyle Higashioka’s is already eligible to return from the 10-day IL, but Boone noted nothing is imminent even though he’s making good progress. Any setback could land Higgy on the 60-day though. If and when Higashioka returns, Erik Kratz will almost certainly be DFA’d and removed from the 40.

If either Avilán or Higashioka hit the 60-day IL, they won’t be seen for the rest of the season. Boone seemed to have Avilán in his circle of trust, but the lefty wouldn’t be a huge absence if lost. Losing Higashioka would hurt more because catching depth is pivotal, even if Higgy isn’t necessarily anything too special.

Barring significant news, no one else on the 10-day IL is a candidate for shuffling off the roster. The Yankees need the likes of DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton, and Giancarlo Stanton (among others) to return this season.

Fringe relief arms

Jonathan Holder seems like a prime DFA candidate. Even though his changeup is somewhat intriguing, he’s maddeningly inconsistent and really hasn’t been effective since 2018. Holder has one minor league option remaining (and it has yet to be used this year). He is also arbitration eligible this offseason. The Yankees may be able to carry forward that option to next year, but Holder will get a raise in arbitration from his $750k salary (albeit nothing drastic), so it wouldn’t shock me to see him non-tendered this winter anyway. The Yankees could just decide to get that decision out of the way sooner.

After Holder comes Ben Heller, who the team really hasn’t given much of an opportunity yet. He’ll have one more minor league option remaining next season, but he could also be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason depending on how many days he spends in the majors in 2020. Do the Yankees want to pay him an increased (but still not big) salary for a reliever with hardly any big league experience? He could be non-tendered as well, so the Bombers could just get ahead of things here.

We’ve yet to see much of Brooks Kriske in 2020, who just joined the 40-man roster entering this season. I can’t imagine he’d be a straight DFA, but perhaps he could be traded like Joe Harvey last year. Remember, Harvey was a newbie on the 40-man, but the Yankees dealt him mid-season to clear space.

I mentioned Kriske as a small trade candidate, but Holder or Heller could fall in that boat as well. The Phillies desperately need bullpen help even after a few recent moves, so maybe they’d come calling to help relieve the Yankees’ 40-man jam.

Trade chips

There are a number of players that likely won’t factor as contributors in 2020 but currently take up space on the 40-man. Those include: Albert Abreu, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Miguel Yajure, and Estevan Florial. Now, we’ve see Abreu get in a game this year and Yajure on the major league roster, but neither are expected to play big roles. Either of those two along with the others could be included in a bigger trade to land help for the Yankees’ rotation or bullpen.

We should also throw in Nick Nelson and Deivi García here. Nelson has pitched a bit for the Yankees this season, but he’s not untouchable via trade. I threw him into a trade proposal last week (MTPS). As for Deivi: I don’t expect the Yankees to actively shop him. Teams will ask for him, though.

Down ballot candidates

Most of the Yankees’ position players are anchored to the 40-man. Only the catching situation and Florial appear to be potential opening opportunities. Otherwise, things look pretty set. Clint Frazier, oft-rumored in trades in the past, appears safe once again because of the team’s injury situation. Further, I don’t see the team selling low on Miguel Andújar. But there is one other rostered position player that’s trending downward: Mike Ford.

I don’t think it’s any secret that we have been Ford fans on this here blog, but I also wouldn’t rule him out in this roster crunch. He’s off to a slow start (.175/.227/.375, 58 wRC+) in 44 plate appearances. There’s no defensive versatility either. There are still a number of guys to cut before him, but he’s starting to play his way into the conversation.

Back to pitchers: what about JA Happ? Cutting him has probably crossed everyone’s mind. It’s almost certainly not going to happen, however. The Yankees seem to have a lot of (blind?) faith in Happ. Perhaps more importantly, pitchers are dropping like flies this year and it would probably behoove the team to keep him around as depth. He’d still get his 2020 salary on or off the team, anyway (aside: his vesting option would be voided upon release, for what it’s worth).

Zack Britton to the injured list among other roster moves

Following last night’s rough outing, Aaron Boone told the media that Zack Britton was hurt. This morning, the lefty reliever was placed on the injured list with a hamstring strain and will undergo (or already has undergone) an MRI. Ben Heller will replace him in the bullpen. It’s an unfortunate blow to a bullpen that had just regained Aroldis Chapman. Britton, who has a 2.00 ERA and 2.48 FIP, was 8-for-8 in save opportunities during Chapman’s absence. His lone blemishes are a pair of losses at the hands of the Rays, including yesterday.

Additionally, the Yankees sent Miguel Andújar back to the Alternate Site in Scranton. He just hasn’t gotten things rolling in sporadic opportunities with the Bombers this season. He was 2-for-21 with no extra base hits and one walk. Unfortunately, his is shaping up to be another lost season for Miggy, who’s returning from shoulder surgery.

Miguel Yajure is up in place of Andújar. He’s a 22 year-old righty who’s hardly pitched about High-A Tampa, but has excellent minor league numbers. He threw 138 2/3 innings (only 11 of those in Double-A Trenton) last year and had a 2.14 ERA and 2.65 FIP. MLB Pipeline ranks him the organization’s 15th-best prospect.

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