Thoughts after the Yankees’ 40-man roster shakeup

A blast from the past.

The Yankees make the 40-man roster protection deadline an event last night by adding over a half-dozen players and jettisoning some big names to make room for them. ICYMI, here’s the summary of their moves:

Added: Deivi García, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Estevan Florial, Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, Brooks Kriske
DFA’d: Nestor Cortes Jr., Greg Bird
Released: Jacoby Ellsbury

Here are my thoughts on the whole sequence of moves, starting with who the Yankees added:

1. The Easy Adds: As Derek so eloquently detailed Tuesday, the Yankees had four players perceived as locks to add by Wednesday’s deadline: García, Gil, Medina and Florial.

It’s well-known how electrifying Deivi can be, and he nearly earned a spot on the roster last September. With the 40-man spot secured, he could get strong consideration for the Opening Day roster in 2020, though it’s more likely he gets further reps in Triple-A after he struggled with the MLB ball and tired down the stretch in 2019.

Meanwhile, Gil, Medina and Florial are further away from the Majors. Gil and Medina raised their profiles with strikeout-laden 2019 seasons for Single-A Charleston, followed by brief stints with Single-A Tampa. Gil, funny enough, was acquired via trade in March 2018 when the Yankees needed to clear room on the 40-man roster. Medina doesn’t turn 21 until May while Gil will be 22 in June.

Florial had his second consecutive down year, both hampered by wrist/hand injuries in Spring Training. That’s part of why he didn’t make Baseball America’s top 10 Yankee prospects. His chances of reaching the Majors in 2020 are slim (as they are for Gil and Medina), but the outfielder would have easy to keep on a 26-man roster for a rebuilding team. Now, he has to find a way to cut down on strikeouts and tap into his potential before it’s too late.

2. The borderline additions: Yajure and Nelson were mentioned by most outlets as bubble players with some favoring Yajure as a “must add.” Kriske, though, came as a surprise even if his name was mentioned.

All three are right-handed pitchers who spent time in Double-A last season, but that’s where the similarities end. Yajure specializes in control, issuing just 30 walks in 138 2/3 innings across High-A and Double-A last season. Though just 21, he has missed development time with Tommy John surgery that knocked out his 2017 season, but he’s fully recovered and has hit 97 on the gun.

However, unlike the four locks, Yajure didn’t make either Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10s. He should start in Trenton after making two starts there in 2019 and could rise from there.

Nelson, meanwhile, reached Triple-A briefly after excelling in the Eastern League. High strikeout rate, high walk rate, the 2016 fourth-rounder has potential to make the Majors in 2020, though that would most likely come in relief as he’s behind García and Michael King for now.

Kriske was the lone full-time reliever of the bunch. Another pitcher who has gone under the knife for TJ, he’s the oldest player added at 25 and is a former sixth-round pick as a senior sign from USC. He could be the latest homegrown college reliever to find his way up the Yankees pipeline. The Bombers wouldn’t have added him to the 40-man as a 25-year-old reliever if he weren’t MLB ready in the near future.

The right-hander added a splitter after joining Trenton, and it appears to have worked wonders for him. Look at his funky motion (and the swings and misses).

3. Yankees not nearly done: So the Yankees are now at 40 men exactly with their 40-man roster. That leaves them no room for Domingo Germán when he’s eventually reinstated from the Commissioner’s exempt list, nor for retaining free agents like Brett Gardner, Dellin Betances, Cameron Maybin or Austin Romine. Or, if this is your cup of tea, Gerrit Cole.

The Yankees had to add the seven players above by Wednesday or else they would have been ripe for the Rule 5 draft in a couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used as trade bait between now and the start of 2020. In fact, the Bombers might have added one or two players to maintain leverage in ongoing trade talks.

As mentioned above, the Yankees acquired Gil in March 2018. They did so after adding Jake Cave to the 40-man roster the previous fall, only to need room for Brandon Drury in Spring Training. A similar fate could befall Nelson, Kriske or one of the other recent additions, or one of the higher-end prospects (Deivi, Gil, Medina Florial) could be packaged in a larger deal.

I thought the Yankees were going to swing a trade, hence why they went up until the 8 p.m. deadline. They could have been working on one and just didn’t find one that made sense. The Rays, meanwhile, dealt Jose De Leon and Christopher Sanchez to alleviate their own logjam, though they also DFA’d Matt Duffy.

4. Current 40-man roster composition: The Yankees are far from done and they’ll need to excise players currently on their 40-man to make any further MLB moves. But as they stand right now, they have 24 pitchers and just 16 hitters on the roster, with Germán still in the organization as a de facto 41st man while awaiting suspension. While that split remains lopsided, it’s because the Yankees like their pitching prospects. They had enough good ones that other teams would have snapped up, and now they’ll have to sort them out.

Chances are, not all 24 pitchers will make it through the next three months until pitchers and catchers report. Here’s how I see the current chopping block, in order:

  1. Stephen Tarpley
  2. Jonathan Holder
  3. Chance Adams
  4. Brooks Kriske
  5. Albert Abreu

Holder and Tarpley are each fine up-and-down arms, but they haven’t proven themselves more than OK middle relievers in a team full of pitchers. Holder is arb eligible for the first time and is projected to make $800K in 2020, but he also had a 6.31 ERA over 41 1/3 innings last year. Even with a strong 2018, he might struggle to make it through, as could Tarpley. Both had injuries that hampered their 2019 seasons.

Adams hasn’t taken as a starter, so it’s probably time to move him to relief full time and see if a healthy version of him can make it as a reliever. Kriske and Abreu, though both in Double-A and near the Majors, each have an injury history and could be expendable.

Luis Cessa, meanwhile, could fit on that list as he’s out of options, and the Yankees have that glut of pitchers on the roster. If J.A. Happ, Jonathan Loaisiga or Germán are moved to long relief in 2020, Cessa’s spot becomes tenuous, as it does if Adams breaks through.

Key date to watch out for: Dec. 2. That’s the non-tender deadline, which could be Holder, Cessa or Tarpley’s last stand.

5. Bird’s likely exit: Though the Yankees could potentially retain Bird after designating him for assignment Wednesday, I wouldn’t count on it. As he has more than three years of service time, he can elect free agency if he clears waivers.

With Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford all on the roster, the Yankees scarcely have room for a first base-only player like Bird that can barely stay on the field. His one-week stint in the Dominican Winter League was encouraging but not enough to save his roster spot.

If he hits free agency, maybe New York could work a Minor League deal with their erstwhile first baseman. The organization has certainly believed in him enough to keep him through a laundry list of injuries, and they were rewarded briefly in the 2017 postseason.

Ah, well. At this point, Bird is better off seeking greener pastures with an organization that has more of an opening at first. The talent has always been there, so hopefully his body can hold up wherever he ends up in 2020.

6. The end of the Ellsbury Era: It was time for the Yankees to move on from the veteran outfielder, even if it meant eating $26 million in the process. It’s been 25 months since Ellsbury donned Yankee pinstripes and Brian Cashman didn’t seem confident in Ellsbury’s renewed health during the GM’s end-of-year press conference.

“It’s hard to say based on how things have played out,” Cashman said of Ellsbury’s availability after Aaron Hicks’ surgery. “Right now he’s not someone in a position health-wise where I can answer anything in the affirmative.”

Ellsbury had $21 million due his way in 2020, though the New York Post reported that was uninsured. The Yankees had previously been able to insure his contract, so they weren’t on the hook for all of his 2018 and ’19 salaries. (To clarify, Ellsbury got all the money owed to him, but an insurance company partially compensated the Bombers.) He also is due $5 million to buy out his option for 2021.

The seven-year, $153 million contract is a notable blemish on Cashman’s strong history of signing position players in free agency. In the same offseason, Shin-Soo Choo earned a similar seven-year deal from the Rangers and was an All-Star in 2018. He was worth 14.1 WAR to Ellsbury’s 9.5 ove the last six seasons, and he still has another year to go.

Meanwhile, the Ellsbury signing came on the heels of Robinson Cano’s exit to Seattle. The Yankees reportedly offered him $175 million over seven years, but the second baseman signed for less AAV ($24 million) over 10 seasons. After a lackluster 2013 season where the Bombers’ offense cratered, the team might have felt it needed to make a splash on offense when they signed Ellsbury in addition to Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

Ultimately, the signing did not work out at all, outside of Ellsbury’s single-season, career and postseason catcher’s interference records, all set with the Yankees. OK, I guess I’m the only one who cares about that last part. It was time for the Yankees to close this chapter.

7. Bye to Nasty Nestor: Lastly, the Yankees removed Cortes from the 40-man roster. He doesn’t have as big a name as Ellsbury or Bird, but baseball’s Mr. 305 should be remembered fondly for his contributions to the 2019 Yankees.

The final numbers are ugly. He had a 5.67 ERA/5.57 FIP and a 79 ERA+, allowing 16 home runs over 66 2/3 innings. The soft-tossing left-hander rarely topped 90 mph, but he got by on guile and an advanced pitching acumen.

Cortes was the bulk guy to form an impressive tandem with opener Chad Green from May well into the summer. The duo helped the Yankees stave off rotation armageddon. Green obviously deserves more of the accolades when it comes to the Yankees’ opener success, but Cortes kept it going. As the bulk pitcher, he helped the Yankees get wins over the Rays (x2), Indians, Astros and Twins, among others.

As the Yankees have previously DFA’d him and the Orioles sent him back in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, I’m pretty certain he can elect free agency. Another team could use him in a bulk/opener role. For whatever reason, I feel as if he’d fit the Seattle Mariners well.

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3 Comments

  1. John Robert Leach

    I don’t know how Nestor ever got anyone out heaving those meatballs up there but, He Did! Sorry to see him go.

  2. RetroRob

    Too much potential value in young arms like García, Gil, Medina, Nelson, Yajure, Kriske to leave them unprotected. Ellsbury’s contract not being insured was likely all they need to cut him, but the value on young prospects is so high that they might have been forced to cut him anyway just based on pure value alone. The Yankees restructuring their entire pitching development from top to bottom this off season means it was unlikely they’d want to risk losing any promising arms. They want this new team to work with all these guys.

    Kriske was the one that surprised me. Nelson is the one I thought they might leave off if they ran out of room. Yajure is the one I feared might be left exposed. BTW BA not having Yajure as a top-ten Yankee prospect but having him on their list of “easy calls” to protect yesterday is likely a testament to both the depth of the Yankees arms, and the top-ten list comprising many players not yet eligible to be protected (The Martian, Schmidt, Peraza, Volpe, etc.). Healthy willing, I can see Devi, Schmidt and Yajure being the Yankees top three pitching prospects a year on assuming Garcia doesn’t graduate.

  3. DJ LeMeddardhieu

    1. Devi needs to be up here next season, Steven. He’s the next Severino and should be considered untouchable in trades. Florial I’d package in a deal for a front line starter.

    2. Never heard of either but they’re demonstrable upgrades over Ellsbury and Bird on the 40 man if they can stand on their own two feet.

    3. There’s still a lot of dead weight in the 40 man. I always laugh when I see the “impending 40 man crunch.” Happ can go, Holder can go, Chance can go. Plenty of options for FAs.

    4. Never been high on Tarpley. He can go too. With the 3 batter minimum his value as a LOOGY is diminished and he’s never been a good LOOGY. I wouldn’t want him facing a big LHB over any of our elite relievers. Holder has never impressed and neither has Chance. They’re both expendable.

    5. They’re finally taking out the trash. Both Voit and Ford are better than Bird. If another club wants to take a chance on Bird let them. A strong gust of wind and he’ll be out for 3 months. He won’t be back and good riddance.

    6. Speaking of good riddance, they finally make the move we’ve been wanting them to make years ago. How can you not play baseball for over 2 years and not even try to come back? Usually with injured players you hear about them rehabbing down in Tampa and working their way back. Dellin at least tried to come back. With Ellsbury you never heard anything. That deal will go down in history as the worst ever in baseball. He was given an elite star’s contract and he never was an elite star. Whenever Hal complains about money and budgets this deal should be brought up as a complete sunk cost.

    7. And that’s a shame. Nestor was a True Yankee who Boone ran into the ground. He had the most success as a bulk guy after Green opened. He reminded me of Ramiro Mendoza or Alfredo Aceves but Boone treated him like Scott Proctor. There were other players on the roster who didn’t deserve to be here as much as him. I hope we bring him back but I suspect another club has already scooped up this crafty lefty. He will be sorely missed.

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