Imagine, if you will, Major League Baseball had decided to bring in two new teams for the 2014 season. As history has shown us, expansion teams come with expansion drafts, so the 2013-2014 offseason would have been extra newsworthy with teams preparing to have their players snatched from them. On top of the Alex Rodriguez fiasco, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, and the $189 million budget watch, the Yankees would have to figure out which Yankees they would need to protect and which they could let go.
Baseball would now have 32 teams, and if we went by the rules of the 1997 Expansion Draft, both teams would be selecting 35 players across three rounds. With two extra teams since the last draft, each team would be selecting 15 players in round 1, 15 players in round 2, and 5 players in round 3. A team can't lose more than one player per round, though each team will lose two players in the first two rounds. Each team would be able to protect 15 players in their organization, that includes people on their 40-man roster and in their minor league system. After each round, teams can add three names to their protected list. A team's draft picks from the 2013, and 2012 MLB Drafts, and any players who signed at 18 or younger in 2011, would be automatically protected. This also includes any amateur free agents signed within this timeframe as well.
So what kind of players could these hypothetical teams be drafting? Take a look at how the players from the 1997 Expansion Draft were broken down:
It's clear that the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays valued cheap players that had some experience, and success, at the major league level in the first round. Once they hit the second round, teams were more willing to take chances on players that had never seen time in the majors, though MLB experience was still valued more. By the third round it was more or less a free for all, with both teams trying to find anyone they could, though it should be noted that this is where the only two players with substantial veteran presence were chosen.
However, today's game has changed. Since the last expansion draft, we have seen free agent contracts boom and bust. We have seen a renewed valuation of young cost-controlled talent. We have seen the rise of the multi-billion dollar TV deal and teams with more revenue than ever before, changing the landscape of free agency. Baseball isn't the same as it was in 1997, and if the new teams have dedicated financial backers and are located in cities with promising revenue streams, it's possible that more players signed to multi-year contracts could be up for the taking. Teams might leave their overpaid players unprotected in hopes that they be taken or as a way of gaming the system and squeezing in an extra protected player. That being said, new teams would still likely go after young players, unless a team was keen on making a statement.
Still, the Yankees aren't like most teams. While baseball finds value in the undervalued, the Yankees steamroll right through. Since they don't value prospects as much as others, it has led to a team consisting almost entirely of free agent signings and very little, both in terms of young talent just breaking into the majors, and useful prospects just waiting to get their chance.
When it comes time for the Yankees to protect their players from a draft, they would have very little reason to worry because most of their players that would need protecting are on their 40-man roster or still under the protection of a recent draft. Only a handful of prospects would actually need to be protected, and most of them wouldn't even be chosen, since the goal is to draft a major league caliber team, so only the least desirable major league pieces would really be left in harm's way.
Noted protected prospects:
|2013 Draft Picks||Ian Clarkin||Eric Jagielo||Aaron Judge||Gosuke Katoh|
|2012 Draft Picks||Nick Goody||Ty Hensley||Peter O'Brien||Rob Refsnyder|
|2011 Draft Picks||Dante Bichette||Greg Bird|
|Amateur Free Agents||Miguel Andujar||Abiatal Avelino||Rafael De Paula||Luis Severino|
It's highly unlikely that any team would want to take these players, since they're so far away from reaching the majors. Other teams, like the Cardinals with Michael Wacha and the Marlins with Jose Fernandez, might find this more helpful.
When deciding who the Yankees would protect, I realized that the last two expansion drafts actually took place in November, which makes perfect sense. By doing the draft early in the offseason, teams don't have to worry about protecting their recently signed free agents. They would also have an easier time protecting all the players they want to protect. With the Yankees focusing their effort on the major league roster, it would suddenly become much easier to retain the most valuable players in the organization.
Having the draft in November would have meant that the Yankees had not signed the following players yet:
|Carlos Beltran||Jacoby Ellsbury||Kelly Johnson||Hiroki Kuroda||Brian McCann||Brendan Ryan||Brian Roberts||Matt Thornton|
Who they could protect by round:
|Round 1||Manny Banuelos||Jose Campos||Brett Gardner||Derek Jeter||Shawn Kelley||J.R. Murphy||Ivan Nova||David Phelps||Michael Pineda||David Robertson||CC Sabathia||Gary Sanchez||Alfonso Soriano||Mark Teixeira||Adam Warren|
|Round 2||Slade Heathcott||Tyler Austin||Jose Ramirez|
|Round 3||Austin Romine||Mark Montgomery||Mason Williams|
The first round contains all the star players that any team would want to take. The second and third rounds would consist of near-major league talent, which teams might be more obliged to take after the first round.
|Zoilo Almonte||Dellin Betances||Cesar Cabral||Preston Claiborne||Ramon Flores||Shane Greene||David Huff|
|Bryan Mitchell||Eduardo Nunez||Vidal Nuno||Alex Rodriguez||Ichiro Suzuki||Nik Turley|
There would be no reason to protect A-Rod at this point. Not only is his contract undesirable at this stage in his career, but he's now suspended on top of that, making him a waste of a pick for a team trying to gain immediate success and find as many fans as possible. Bringing in Rodriguez could push fans away.
Leaving Ichiro unprotected could be one way of clearing space on the 40-man roster. He's not worth protecting anyone else over, so it's worth taking a chance. A team may want Ichiro to add some star power, though he would be expensive for a startup baseball team.
What do you think, Yankees fans, who would you have protected and who would you have let go?
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