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The Yankees face big decisions on players without options

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Three Yankees players have exhausted their minor league options, and the Yankees now have to decide on their future with the organization.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With Brian Cashman’s assertion that Tampa is a “better franchise than us right now,” it is all but assured that the Yankees will be active on all fronts looking to improve this offseason. Players who have exhausted their minor league options become roster pieces that now limit the flexibility of the organization. Some players have used their years with options to establish themselves as bona fide major leaguers, while others are likely to be moved, or moved off the 40-man roster.

The player who took the biggest advantage of his last year of minor league options was Clint Frazier. Faced with a crowded roster, the Yankees sent Frazier to the alternate training site in Scranton to start the season. Injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, as well as ineffective play from Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford, opened the door for Frazier’s return in mid-August.

Frazier was an immediate infusion of energy and production in the lineup at a time when the Yankees needed it. He produced a 149 OPS+ on the season and hit a big home run during the playoffs even though his play was limited.

Even with a crowded outfield depth chart, Frazier will be expected to be in the lineup on opening day of 2021. His improvement on defense makes him an everyday player that is no longer a liability in the field. Playing the majority of his innings in right field, Frazier’s overall defense metrics finished in the positive for DRS and UZR for the first time in his major league career.

Thairo Estrada broke camp with the Yankees based on his positional versatility on the infield dirt and potential to be a solid contact bat. Estrada looked noticeably bulkier this season to many observers, leading some to question if he could hold down the shortstop position that gives him some of his utility value.

In small sample sizes, he looked to be an average second baseman, but is probably slightly below average at shortstop and third base. Estrada’s offense was near non-existent, and included a 36% strikeout rate that was far above his 21.7% rate from 2019.

The Yankees seem to prefer Tyler Wade over Estrada in the utility role. If rosters are limited to 26 players next season, it is hard to see the Yankees carrying Estrada. They may try to keep him on the roster into the spring hoping that he can step up his offensive game and then generate some trade value.

The Yankees do not have a clear-cut replacement for Estrada’s role coming through the system. Players like Kyle Holder and Oswaldo Cabrera are in the minors, but the Yankees could also be looking for a solid veteran option.

Acquired from Houston in the Brian McCann trade, Albert Abreu has been in the top half of most Yankees prospect listings since 2017. He has been unable to develop the command that he would need to develop into a solid starter. He was given two chances as a reliever this season and didn’t impress much in either outing.

With a bevy of young arms that will need protection, it is possible that Abreu could survive with the Yankees, but it’s unlikely. They could seek to package him in a trade for a low-level lottery ticket in the manner that they did with Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper several seasons ago. The high-90s fastball and strong secondary pitches make Abreu a candidate to breakthrough at some point, but his may be up with the Yankees.

The Yankees had several other players with only one minor league option left, but Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Jonathan Loaisiga and Tyler Wade remained with the major league roster the entire season and did not burn their last option year. Between now and the setting of rosters for the Rule 5 draft, the Yankees will be looking to refine their roster and maximize the value of the players they add. While Frazier is seemingly secure with the Yankees, the organization will likely be exploring all of their options regarding Estrada and Abreu.