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Managing the 40-man roster is a year-round task for the Yankees

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In the wake of the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, it’s apparent that the Yankees have been managing the roster year-round.

Surprise Saguaros v. Peoria Javelinas Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft came and went on Friday, and the Yankees made moves to protect five players from within their system. In the process, they had to part ways with a number of former players. Over the past two seasons, the Yankees have lost three players through Rule-5 process and it is clear that teams value to players that the Yankees farm system is producing. Over the last 12 months, the Yankees have seen a number of players leave the system through the Rule 5 Draft and trades

Last December, the Yankees saw three players — Garrett Whitlock, Trevor Stephan, and Kyle Holder — selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Holder was not able to stick with the Cincinnati Reds and returned to the Yankees organization after spring training, but both Whitlock and Stephan remained on the rosters throughout the year and will stay with their new teams.

Whitlock especially stood out, as he recorded a 1.6 fWAR in 73.1 innings while being Boston’s most reliable bullpen option. Stephan was not nearly as effective for Cleveland, but they carried him on their roster for the entire season and he remains with their organization.

Early in 2021, the Yankees swung a trade sending four prospects to Pittsburgh for pitcher Jameson Taillon. Three of the four players that the Yankees traded were either already on the 40-man roster, or would be Rule-5 eligible following the 2021 season. Miguel Yajure had already made his MLB debut with the Yankees in the pandemic shortened 2020 season but was and still is very much a prospect.

Another pitcher in Roansy Contreras finished 2019 in with Low-A Charleston, excelled for the Pirates minor leagues this season, and made his own MLB debut for Pittsburgh in September. Outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba was the Yankees’ fourth-round pick in 2017 and was one of the top offensive players in the South Atlantic League in 2019. After a strong Double-A and Arizona Fall League season, he was added to the Pirates’ 40-man roster on Friday. In addition to being on the 40-man, Contreras, Yajure, and Smith-Njigba are all rated among the Pirates’ top 30 prospects.

Heading towards the trade deadline in July, the Yankees needed to make some moves to spark their underachieving team. One move that did not work out in any way whatsoever was a deal that sent two prospects to the Angels for left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney. His ability to strike batters out has teams convinced that he is one small tweak away from sustained success, but he has yet to put that together on the field. In return, the Yankees sent a pair of right-handed pitchers in Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero.

Junk was in the midst of a breakout season at the Double-A level, and after taking a perfect game into the ninth inning for the Angels’ Double-A affiliate he was called up to make his MLB debut and remained on their 40-man roster. Peguero also debuted, but was allowed to be sent off the roster due to the nature of his mid-season call up. He was officially added to the Angels’ 40-man roster on Friday. Both Junk and Peguero are rated among the top 30 Angels prospects by MLB.com.

The Yankees had more moves coming, and the centerpieces of the deals were all Rule-5 eligible following the season. Middle infielders Hoy Park and Diego Castillo were both in the midst of breakout campaigns at the Triple-A and Double-A level respectively when they were traded to the Pirates for relief pitcher Clay Holmes (who turned out to be far better than Heaney). Both Park and Castillo had previously been passed over in the Rule 5 Draft, but their 2021 seasons changed perception, as Park earned his first major league experience with the Yankees, and Castillo’s power surge was one of the biggest surprises across the entire Yankees minor league system. Both players are on the Pirates 40-man roster now.

The biggest Yankees deadline deal saw them send four prospects to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Joey Gallo and reliever Joely Rodríguez. Pitcher Glenn Otto was among the minor league leaders in strikeouts and eventually earned a call-up to the Rangers late in the year. Ezequiel Duran was putting together a strong season for the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades when he was traded. Following a strong Arizona Fall League, he was added to the Rangers’ 40-man roster. The other two players in the deal, Josh Smith and Trevor Hauver are not yet Rule-5 eligible, but are both ranked by MLB.com as top-15 Rangers prospects.

The Yankees also sought to improve their production at first base by acquiring Anthony Rizzo in a trade with the Cubs. Heading the other way was young right-handed pitcher Alexander Vizcaíno, who the Yankees had added to the 40-man roster the previous November in order to protect him from the Rule 5. Also in the deal was centerfield prospect Kevin Alcantara, who joins Vizcaíno as one of the Cubs top-20 prospects.

Following the season the Yankees added catcher Donny Sands to the 40-man roster, as he was eligible to become a minor league free agent. Sands, who had struggled over the last few seasons, broke out in a big way during the 2021 season, hitting 18 home runs in 94 games. Drafted as a third baseman, Sands converted to catcher during his time in the Yankees system. Over the past year, he earned a strong reputation for his handling of the pitching staff and his framing metrics. The Yankees recently shipped Sands to the Phillies in a deal with another member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster, Nick Nelson.

The November deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft forces teams into action, but the Yankees have been managing their 40-man roster decision on a regular basis for the entire year. In the last year, the Yankees have traded away quite a number of players who went on to land on other teams’ 40-man rosters and among their top-prospects. The pure volume of trades and players that other teams were willing to add highlights both the depth of the Yankees’ system, and that there is a level of talent available that many other teams are looking for.