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Long-range roster management will help Yankees decide their trade chips

Forthcoming Rule-5 eligibility and minor league options play a role in determining prospects to market.

MLB: MAR 18 Spring Training - Yankees at Pirates
Hayden Wesneski
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the MLB season enters June, each team’s strengths and weaknesses come into focus and trade rumors begin to pick up steam. For every player that a team is looking to add to the major league roster, there will be various packages of prospects heading back the other way.

When the Yankees do business, many of those prospects are players who will need to be protected in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft, or may be running out of minor league option years with no clear place waiting for them in the major leagues. In July 2021, when it seemed like the Yankees were about to make a move on the market, we used these factors to help determine who they might choose to deal. Sure enough, Ezequiel Duran, Glenn Otto, Janson Junk, and Diego Castillo all found themselves on new teams by August.

First, let’s take a look at the players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft following the season. Two recent stories of player development success for the Yankees are a couple Top-10 organization prospects: Hayden Wesneski and Ken Waldichuk. The two pitchers were taken in back-to-back rounds of the 2019 draft. Despite losing a year to the cancelled 2020 campaign they are both currently at the Triple-A level and pitching well.

Wesneski and Waldichuk will both command 40-man roster spots in November. However, they are also likely among the first prospects that the Yankees will be asked about in any trade scenario — especially for an impact player.

It was just announced on Wednesday that they will be joined at the Triple-A level by Jhony Brito, who has excelled in the early goings for Double-A Somerset. The right-hander has long been known for his elite control, but seems to have added some velocity to his fastball this season topping out around 98 mph while retaining much of his well known strike throwing ability. Brito would have been eligible for the last Rule 5 Draft, but it was cancelled due to the owners’ lockout-induced timing of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed this spring.

Another player who may soon make the jump to Triple-A is Randy Vasquez. Known for his high spin rate curve ball, Vasquez jumped from Low-A to Double-A last season, performing well at every stop along the way and even ranked No. 3 on Baseball Prospectus’ top Yankees prospects at the start of 2022. An under-the-radar international free agent when he signed with the team, he is now routinely listed among the Yankees’ top 30 prospects.

Since being drafted in the supplemental first round of 2019, T.J. Sikkema has been sidetracked by the cancelled 2020 season and then several injuries, which cost him the entire 2021 campaign. He has returned to action with High-A Hudson Valley and is showing the form that made him a high draft pick. It is likely that he will have thrown under 100 professional innings by the end of the season, but the Yankees will have to use the information that they have to make a long-term decision on Sikkema.

Several other players on the High-A roster will also be Rule-5 eligible following the season and are playing well. Matt Sauer was a second-round pick in 2017 out of high school and has overcome his own lost time to injuries tp post an 11.3 K/9 and just 2.4 BB/9 for the Renegades in 2022. Just last night, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh and finished with seven innings of one-hit shutout ball. Sauer is likely to finish the season with Double-A Somerset and fits the profile of the type of pitcher that is hunted for in the Rule 5.

The breakout campaign of Austin Wells could also put the Yankees in an interesting spot with two of their other catching prospects, Anthony Seigler and Josh Breaux. The pair of catchers were taken in back-to-back rounds by the Yankees in the 2018 draft and are currently playing in High-A and Double-A, respectively. Seigler, who has battled numerous injuries, is playing the best baseball of his career right now, while Breaux’s defensive reviews have improved and he is also displaying big time power when he connects.

Although uncommon, teams will sometimes grab players who are nowhere near MLB-ready and stash them at the back of their roster or bullpen. A few arms who might fit that demographic are Tyrone Yulie and Juan Carela. Carela appears to be the more polished pitcher at this point, but Yulie has the stuff that lights up the radar gun, frequently flirting with triple digits.

Players needing to be added to the 40-man roster after the end of the season are one category of players likely to be traded, but another includes those who are almost out of minor league options. There is a trio of arms that Yankees fans have long had high hopes for but may be running out of time. Deivi García, Luis Gil and Luis Medina are all currently in their last years of having minor league options.

Since his tremendous 2018-19 campaigns, García has struggled at the upper levels of the system. He just headed to the IL but should he return it is possible that the Yankees will include him in a package to a team hoping to revitalize him into the strikeout machine he was for a two-year stretch. Luis Medina has also tantalized scouts and fans alike with his potential, but the control has just never gotten all the way there.

Luis Gil has made it to the major leagues and pitched well for the Yankees at the highest level, but the team knows that he will be out through the middle of next season after requiring Tommy John surgery last month. With no minor league landing spot for him next season, and also no clearly defined role with the big-league club, Gil could become a tradable asset to a team that can more easily fit him into their rotation or bullpen when he returns.

The Yankees are in first place and have the best record in baseball, yet the team has room for improvement. With two months until the trade deadline it is certain that they Yankees will spin some deals as they attempt to best position this team to win their first World Series in over a decade. When that deal is being negotiated, the long-range management of the rosters will play a role in who the Yankees choose to include in any deal.