The Yankees lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to the Houston Astros, finishing the season just one win shy of their 41st pennant in franchise history. This sucks, and it’s understandable if the loss still stings you, but as my good friend Tupac Shakur once said, life goes on. It’s time to take the first look at the Yankees’ 40-man roster, headed into what’s sure to be an eventful offseason.
At end of play on Saturday, the Yankees had a full 40-man roster, plus Michael Pineda and Luis Cessa on the 60-day DL. This gives us a pool of 42 players who are effectively on the major league roster, and they can be broken down into six buckets:
Under contract - those players who will be returning in 2018 barring a trade.
Free agents - those whose contracts will have expired and are free to sign with any team.
Arbitration eligible - those with no contract but between 3-6 years of MLB service time.
Renewal - those with no contract but less than three years of MLB service time. They can negotiate new contract terms or their team can unilaterally renew a contract one year at a time.
Non-tender candidates - those who are at risk of not receiving a contract offer or arbitration, and can become free agents earlier than their six year deadline.
Other - players with opt-out clauses. They may return but may void the remaining years of their contract.
With this in mind, here’s the Yankees’ current major league roster, with service time accurate as of end of play in the 2017 regular season, with help from the invaluable Cot’s Contracts:
If we sort this player list by bucket, we get something that looks like this:
Players highlighted in yellow still have minor league options on their service, as per MLB Trade Rumors. Let’s dive deeper into each bucket.
Under Contract (6): No big surprises here. Brett Gardner’s name gets kicked around every year as someone who may be traded in the offseason, and with the glut of outfield talent the Yankees have, that might come true. All in all, though, this is a solid enough group of players with only one really bad contract and one less-than-ideal contract in the mix.
Free agents (5): Two holes opened by pending free agency include a rotation spot and the DH slot. CC Sabathia is a great candidate to return on a short-term contract, but I doubt Matt Holliday will play in a Yankee uniform in 2018. The Yankees could get a designated hitter who can play a handful of games a week, with a few games mixed given to other players for a half-day off. Todd Frazier is another pending free agent who is at least worth considering bringing back on a short-term deal. Chase Headley remains on the team another year and guys like Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are close to major league ready.
Arbitration-Eligible (6): A very strong case could be made to extend a couple of the arbitration candidates this year, with both Didi Gregorius and Sonny Gray worthy of a long-term deal that buys out a couple years of free agency. These extensions are costlier than one year of arbitration, but cheaper in the long run and secure a player’s prime seasons without too much baggage in decline years.
Non-Tender Candidates (2): Oh, backup catchers. Supposedly glove-first unsung heroes, but in the Yankees’ case both backups are just not very good—at anything. Even Austin Romine managed a paltry -10 DRS backing up Gary Sanchez. If the Yankees are over Romine, they can non-tender him then sign a short-term small-risk contract, which would likely be cheaper than Romine’s eventual arbitration award.
Renewals (22): As befits one of the youngest teams in baseball, renewals make up the bulk of the 40-man roster. Like certain arbitration eligible players, it would make more sense to extend a few of the renewal-due players to long term deals. Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird are all players the Yankees will look to for 5+ win seasons for the next several years, and so signing them to team-friendly extensions makes the most sense.
A framework for a contract like those signed by Chris Sale or Jose Quintana would serve the team well, as a player will almost always accept guaranteed money, and by the end of the deal the team would have a ludicrously valuable agreement. Bryan Mitchell, meanwhile, could have found himself a non-tender candidate but it’s incredibly rare to non-tender a pre-arb player, so he probably gets by with one more year.
Other (1): The only player that doesn’t comfortably fit into one of the above buckets is Masahiro Tanaka, who of course, has the option to void the remaining three years of his contract. It’s widely expected Tanaka will opt out, but since no decision is announced yet, he stays in the “Other” bucket for now. Should Tanaka elect for free agency, signing him should be the number one priority of the Yankee front office, as 4-5 win, 180 inning starting pitchers don’t come along every day.
There will be other ways of tinkering with the roster in the coming weeks. Teams have five days following the World Series to exclusively negotiate with pending free agents, and we may see the Yankees take advantage of that time to fill a couple holes with re-signings. There is also the Rule 5 draft coming up and a possible roster crunch to protect players that would make attractive pieces on other teams. Either way, the roster, as it stands, is fairly stable and sets out a clear set of objectives for the 2018 season.