The Yankees will have lots of 2019 players returning to their roster in 2020. With the way the Yankees are set up financially right now, they absolutely have the wherewithal to bring back 100% of their young core and several other important pieces. However, with a number of players working their way through the arbitration process, they could choose to make some cuts in places.
There are a few players in arbitration right now that may not have taken the necessary next step to force the Yankees’ hand and give them a raise. Players like Greg Bird, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Holder, and others haven’t always lived up to expectations during their time with the Yankees. New York could choose to offer contracts to such players, but they also could opt to non-tender them. They face some tricky questions in a few areas.
Let’s start with Bird. Bird came up as one of the first Baby Bombers in 2015 and was a promising young first base prospect that the Yankees hoped could anchor the position over the next several years. That has not been the case, as Bird’s young career has been riddled with injuries keeping him off the field for extended periods of time. On top of that, he has not capitalized when his opportunities have come his way, posting a dreadful 80 OPS+ since 2017. Bird made just $1.2 million in 2019, but the Yankees could choose to non-tender him to open up another spot on the 40-man roster. With a player in Luke Voit at first that has done nothing but shine as a Yankee, it’s tough to come to terms with a guy like Bird.
Cessa began his career in 2016 and has essentially bounced up and down between Scranton and New York while always remaining on the 40-man roster. Cessa has been a good guy to cover for taxed bullpen arms in the past, though that’s all he’s really done. With a career ERA of 4.50, he has by no means forced himself into the bullpen’s circle of trust. Cessa did make some strides this season, though, posting a career-low ERA and a career-high K/9 rate, so it would be a little surprising to see the Yankees cut bait with the 27-year-old right-hander now.
Jonathan Holder is almost the same player as Cessa in the eyes of the stat book. He came up in 2016 and has bounced up and down between the Triple-A and big league squads. Holder, who was on the 60-day IL at the end of the season, had a breakout 2018 but a nightmarish 2019, giving up 32 runs in 41.1 innings. Given his injury poor recent performance, the Yankees could think twice before ensuring Holder’s roster spot next year.
Tyler Lyons will be an interesting candidate. Lyons signed with the Yankees in August and provided some innings in relief for the Yankees down the stretch and in the postseason. He only pitched 8.2 innings over the course of a month and a half, so there isn’t much of a sample size. That said, he impressed the organization enough to squeeze his way on the playoff roster. He has one more season of arbitration remaining before free agency, so it will be interesting to see if the Yankees decide to bring him back for the 2020 campaign.
These are players at the fringes of the roster, and they in all likelihood won’t be huge factors in the Yankees’ 2020 season. Still, we have a long winter ahead of us, and every roster decision is important. We’ll see how the Yankees decide to navigate the questions at the edges of the squad soon enough.