We’re three weeks into November and the Yankees have yet to make any serious additions to their roster. This is to be expected, as history shows that the biggest names in free agency tend to wait until late in the offseason to sign to allow their markets to develop. New York did bring back reliever Joely Rodríguez on a one-year, $2 million deal, but that’s about it. And then last Friday, we saw a flurry of late afternoon activity.
November 19th was the deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, and this required quite a bit of shuffling on a Yankees 40-man roster that was full less than 48 hours ago. With minutes to go before the deadline, the Yankees announced they had traded Nick Nelson and Donny Sands to the Phillies for a pair of minor leaguers. Shortly after, they announced they had designated Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade, and Rougned Odor for assignment. These moves allowed them to add Oswaldo Cabrera, Ron Marinaccio, Everson Pereira, Stephen Ridings, and JP Sears to the 40-man roster, thus protecting them from the Rule 5 Draft.
The New York Yankees today announced that they have acquired minor leaguers INF T.J. Rumfield and LHP Joel Valdez from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Nick Nelson and C Donny Sands.— New York Yankees (@Yankees) November 19, 2021
Today, the Yankees have made the following roster moves:— New York Yankees (@Yankees) November 19, 2021
•Added INF Oswaldo Cabrera, RHP Ron Marinaccio, OF Everson Pereira, RHP Stephen Ridings and LHP JP Sears to the Major League roster.
•Designated OF Clint Frazier, INF Rougned Odor and INF Tyler Wade for assignment.
The five players the Yankees chose to remove from the 40-man took many of us by surprise. Each member of the quintet either provided the Yankees with some value last season, or possessed upside that was worth keeping around. Most importantly, their subtraction left the depth at the major league level in a perilously thin state.
Starting with the players traded away, Nick Nelson struggled in limited major league action, but his high-octane arm and underlying metrics provided attractive upside. He struck out over 28 percent of batters faced with the Yankees and his 4.08 FIP suggested some bad luck was behind the inflated 8.79 ERA. That said, the Yankees’ bullpen is stacked, suggesting no route back to the bigs for the hard-throwing righty, making Nelson’s loss the easiest to justify.
The other player headed to Philly in that trade was a bit more of a head-scratcher. Donny Sands had an .816 OPS in 42 games at Triple-A last season and was the closest Yankees catching prospect to the bigs. With the likes of Austin Wells and Josh Breaux at least a year away from the majors, Sands’ departure appears to solidify Gary Sánchez’s role as starting catcher and Kyle Higashioka’s as backup.
Moving on to the players designated for assignment, this is where things get more concerning. Tyler Wade will probably always be a Quad-A hitter, but the one thing he did offer the Yankees was speed and defensive competence at multiple positions. He was one of the few players on the roster capable of playing centerfield in a pinch, leaving only Aaron Hicks as the starter with Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo as emergency backups. Wade also played a serviceable shortstop, so as things stand, the Yankees only have Gio Urshela to play short assuming Gleyber Torres’ time at short is well and truly over.
Designating Rougned Odor for assignment also has an indirect effect on shortstop depth. He along with DJ LeMahieu were Urshela’s backups at third, so with Odor out of the picture, that would appear to leave Urshela as the starting shortstop and LeMahieu as the starting third baseman without a single backup on the bench for either position. This situation would be the easiest to rectify via free agency, but for the moment it throws a lot of the current Yankees into off-roles.
Finally, that brings us to Clint Frazier. Frazier struggled at the plate before being benched for Brett Gardner and later missing the end of the season with vision issues. Assuming he can return to full health, there is still a ton of upside in his bat — as evidenced by the 123 wRC+ in 123 games between 2018 and 2020 — making his DFA an unexpected choice. His departure combined with the loss of Brett Gardner and the aforementioned Wade leave the Yankees with only Judge, Hicks, Gallo, and Stanton as outfielders on the active roster.
Every player the Yankees parted ways with was surprising in one way or another. Nelson flashed wipeout stuff at times, Sands appeared to be the third catcher in waiting, Wade was one of the few bench players capable of manning short and center, Odor cost nothing but the league minimum, and Frazier was the headliner of the Andrew Miller trade. Their departures created gaping holes in the Yankees’ major league depth. And if anything, these moves seem to forecast an active winter of additions in the Bronx.