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Which players should the Yankees protect in an expansion draft?

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A new team joined the league. The Yankees can only protect 15 players. Which ones do they choose?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Chris Cotillo wrote about a hypothetical expansion draft at SBNation.com. It’s a straightforward premise. The Montreal Youppis — his name, not mine — joined the league and they get to raid each organization for pieces. A team may protect only 15 players. That’s it. We’re talking across the entire system, too. There are a few caveats, though, and they are as follows:

  • Players selected in the 2016 and 2017 drafts automatically receive protection.
  • Players selected in the 2015 draft who were 18 or younger are also protected.
  • Free agents in the 2017 - 2018 class do not need to be protected.
  • No-trade clauses do not factor into this hypothetical draft.

With the rules established, it makes sense to dive into which players the Yankees should be protecting. Some prove easier to name than others. We’ll begin with the no-doubters.

The Emergent Core

The first four players whom I would protect are Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances. This quintet has the makings of the next core of great Yankees. It contains a MVP candidate, a catcher with outstanding offense, a frontline starting pitcher, and a relief ace. They’re homegrown All-Stars. Every team would want them, especially a new vulture organization, but they can’t have them. They’re ours, now back off.

Productive Veterans

The next three players who receive protection are veterans performing at a high level. This means Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, and Brett Gardner. Gregorius and Castro represent a pair of middle infielders in their prime. Castro made his fourth All-Star team this season, while his double play partner fell just short of the honor. Gardner, on the other hand, continues to be productive on both sides of the ball. The Yankees need to field competitive teams, and it would be tough to do so without these three.

The Young and Impressive

Over the last few seasons, the Yankees have turned to their farm system to fill holes. It’s worked out well, too. Jordan Montgomery took the fifth starter job at the beginning of the season, and he hasn’t looked back since. A young left-handed starter has to be protected. Otherwise, he would certainly get snapped up by Montreal.

Despite being injured, and seemingly in the doghouse with a certain Yankees insider, Greg Bird also gets protected. When healthy, he’s a force at the plate. He hit 11 home runs in 2015 with a bad shoulder and eight in spring training 2017. Bird can hit, and it would be a travesty to lose him for nothing.

The Top Prospects

The final six players whom I would protect fall into the top prospect category. Let’s go with Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian, and Jorge Mateo. These players all have enormous ceilings. They range from perennial All-Stars to sufficiently above-average regulars. A few of these prospects currently sit on the disabled list, but that doesn’t matter. An expansion team would definitely take a chance on an injured Torres or Kaprielian.

These players represent the future for the Yankees. They’re a near-future, too. Frazier already made his major league debut, while the others could in the no time. Only Kaprielian and Mateo are the furthest away. Some of these prospects could end up as trade chips — not every kid makes it, after all — but like Bird, they can’t lose them for nothing. A new club would love to snag one of these young players.

Having picked 15 players to protect, the next step is to examine the notable omissions. In terms of Yankees with significant contracts, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aroldis Chapman stand out. You could do a lot worse at center field and closer than those two. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chapman finds himself in Montreal’s bullpen. Would the Yankees miss either of these two? That’s the real question. Let’s just say I won’t lose sleep over Ellsbury or Chapman.

Expansion teams need pitching depth, and the Yankees have it in spades. Players such as Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, and Adam Warren will all be up for grabs. I would be shocked if the Yankees didn’t lose a pitcher in an expansion draft. They have too many arms to protect them all.

Ancillary pieces such as Tyler Austin, Rob Refsnyder, and Tyler Wade could also change uniforms. Aaron Hicks, coming off a red hot start to the season, also figures to go in an expansion draft. He may be injured now, but he flashed signs of living up to his top prospect billing this season. Suffice it to say, Hicks is a likely choice for Montreal.

This exercise speaks to two big points. First, the Yankees have an incredibly deep organization. An expansion team can raid the system and the Bombers will still be okay. That’s pretty impressive. Second, the 15 protected players shed light on how talented the Yankees are. They have a brilliant core, surrounded by strong complimentary players. Plus, there are plenty of top prospects waiting in the wings. Things look good for the Yankees, both in the present and the future.

Now it’s your turn. Which 15 players would you protect and why? Are there any players you would hate to lose? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!