After a slow start to the offseason, the pace has picked up in the last two weeks. The 2021 major league roster has come into focus with recent additions and trades, but the team might not be done yet. The Yankees still have some financial flexibility under the luxury tax and a log jam of prospects that could help them swing another trade.
After adding DJ LeMahieu, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and Darren O’Day over the last two weeks, the Yankees’ roster has experienced some significant turnover. Prior to those deals, the Yankees’ 40-man roster was full, and after the Taillon trade, they were bumping up against the luxury tax threshold. Adam Ottavino was traded to Boston to free up financial space, and soon after, O’Day entered the mix.
All this movement leaves the Yankees in need of a revised 40-man roster and with around $8.5M to play with under the luxury tax. Since the first signings, it has been speculated that the Yankees would just designate a player for assignment to make the roster space. Greg Allen, Albert Abreu, Thairo Estrada, and Ben Heller have been frequent names bandied about if they choose to go that path. So far, the Yankees have sought value by trading away members of the 40-man in the Taillon and Ottavino deals.
Free agent names like Brett Gardner, Trevor Rosenthal, and Chaz Roe have been tossed around as players who could be signed and fit in under the luxury tax threshold. On the trade market, names like Brewers relief ace Josh Hader and Pittsburgh second baseman and outfielder Adam Frazier could be available for the right price and have salaries that would fit under the Yankees’ luxury tax number. The Yankees could also be looking for one more established starter, as reports surfaced that they had recently attempted to land both Taillon and Joe Musgrove in one deal.
One reason to think the Yankees may be looking at a trade is the log jam that still exists in the two Class-A levels of the minor leagues. The Yankees system has been built to be strong up the middle, but the loss of Rookie-Advanced Pulaski and Short-Season-A Staten Island due to minor league contraction has put a cramp on the spaces available to some of the Yankees’ best prospects.
The Bombers currently have 4 shortstops ranked inside their top-30 prospects by MLB.com. Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, Josh Smith and Alexander Vargas all project to start the season at either High-A or Low-A. The team can move the players off the position, but if their best value is at shortstop, then they are immediately lowering the prospects’ ceiling.
It is common for shortstops to move to second base, but the Yankees already have several second base prospects coming through the system at the same Class-A levels. Ezequiel Duran is coming off a 2019 season where he led the NY-Penn League in home runs and is considered a top-100 prospect by FanGraphs. The Yankees used their third-round draft pick on Arizona State’s Trevor Hauver this past year. Hauver played a lot of outfield in college, as three members of the ASU infield were drafted in the first four rounds of the draft, but the Yankees announced him as a second baseman (where he has past experience).
Behind the plate, the Yankees again have 4 members of their top-30 prospects who could be in the Class-A range. Their top draft pick from 2020, Austin Wells is joined by high 2018 draft picks Josh Breaux and Anthony Seigler, who both played in Charleston during 2019. Antonio Gomez — possibly the best defensive catching prospect in the Yankees organization — played in the Gulf Coast League in 2019 and is another player likely on track to play in Low-A this season. The Yankees also have Carlos Narvaez, a 2019 NY-Penn League All-Star, who has a career .370 OBP while throwing out 42 percent of the runners who tried to steal on him in 2019.
The Yankees have also heavily invested in center over the last few seasons, and it shows in their prospect rankings. Since 2017, they’ve brought in highly-touted international free agents Everson Pereira, Antonio Cabello, Raimfer Salinas, and Kevin Alcantara. Pereira played for Staten Island in 2019. Salinas and Cabello played in Pulaski, and Alcantara improved his numbers each month of the Gulf Coast League season. Ahead of this group is Brandon Lockridge, who finished fourth in the South Atlantic League in total bases while flashing some of the best speed in the Yankees’ system. Of course, there is also uber-prospect Jasson Dominguez, who will be making his stateside debut in 2021 and could be pushing for a place in Low-A Tampa by the middle of the season.
Player assignments in 2021 could feel a little erratic. With no minor league season in 2020, the uneven world of prospect development could be thrown even a little further out of synch. It is possible that the Yankees promote, or hold back some of the prospects listed above to break a roster crunch in the system and get players the appropriate playing time. It also makes sense that the Yankees continue to explore the trade market — if value can be found from their up-the-middle log jam they should explore it.
The Yankees have turned on the hot stove over the last few weeks, and the roster for 2021 has come into focus. Yet there is potential for the Yankees to get more done. They still need to free a 40-man roster spot for Darren O’Day, and possibly more (even if it’s just re-signing Brett Gardner). Combined with some financial flexibility and a number of prospects up the middle at the Class-A levels, the Yankees could still very much be a player on the trade market before the team heads to spring training.