The Rule 5 Draft occurs in the offseason, but there are times when it dictates in-season decisions. Interesting prospects deserving of a call-up remain stuck in the minors because of their eligibility. If they don’t need to be protected in the coming offseason, sometimes there’s no point in bringing them up. That’s where Jonathan Holder found himself this season.
This year, those eligible in the draft were taken out of high school in 2012 or college in 2013. For international guys, it usually makes sense to consider them like high school players. Holder put together an impressive season in 2016, but because he was drafted out of college in 2014, he still had another year before he needed to be added to the 40-man roster. Despite his success, the Yankees debated over whether or not it was worth it to call him up this year. They ultimately chose to promote him, but he struggled in the little playing time he got. Was the decision a mistake?
A reliever in college, Holder was given a chance to start when he made the transition to professional ball. It worked out well for him before he was moved back into the bullpen this season and given a chance to move quickly through the system. He pitched to a 2.20 ERA in Trenton before getting the call to Scranton in July and pitching to a 0.89 ERA. He accumulated 101 strikeouts through the end of August before he was considered for a call-up.
The major-league bullpen had been in a constant state of flux all season long. Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances made the back end of the bullpen unhittable, but the middle relief group left much to be desired. The Yankees had sold at the deadline, but an August surge put them in playoff contention and they needed relievers who could actually get people out. Holder looked like he could be the guy, so they decided to make the call and give him a promotion, despite the Rule 5 implications.
Unfortunately for everyone involved he ultimately struggled in his short amount of time in the majors. Over just 8.1 sporadic innings, Holder had a 5.40 ERA and 4.94 FIP with troubling peripherals that included a 5.4 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9. It was a small sample size, so it’s hard to evaluate him based on his performance, but it was obviously Not What You Want.
Normally, there wouldn’t be much to talk about here if it wasn’t for the Rule 5 Draft. By calling him up now, the Yankees used up a spot on the 40-man roster they could have used to spare one of their players from being drafted this year. Looking over the team’s 40-man roster, which currently stands at 39, the Yankees have just two spots that will open up when Eric Young’s and Mark Teixeira’s contract expire with the team.
Aside from these players, there are also guys like Richard Bleier, Anthony Swarzak, Kirby Yates, Donovan Solano, and Billy Butler who could end up being released in the offseason. Then there’s the matter of all the players who will be returning from the 60-day disabled list, which include Dustin Ackley, Greg Bird, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder, Conor Mullee, Chad Green, and Nathan Eovaldi.
I won’t try to guess who will and who won’t make the cut, but I have a hard time believing the Yankees will rid themselves of most of the guys above. On the surface, it looks like they might be stuck without much of a way to open up roster spots for the draft, making the Holder move look like a mistake in the end. Luckily, they don’t have many players they will need to protect this year. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin would have been eligible, but they are already on the 40-man roster. Jorge Mateo, Jake Cave, and Miguel Andujar are probably easy choices, but the rest are up for debate.
The draft is usually used by teams to grab relievers and bench bats who can be stashed away for long periods of time without having to contribute regularly. Guys like Luis Torrens and Domingo Acevedo are too young and far away to be worth protecting, but that leaves players like Dietrich Enns, Giovanny Gallegos, Cale Coshow, Caleb Smith, and Kyle Higashioka in need of protection.
The Yankees won’t save all of them, and it’s likely many of them don’t get picked up in the end, but putting Holder on the roster now might have cost them a spot to save someone like Dietrich Enns or Kyle Higashioka, who most teams could probably use over the course of a full season.
In the end, however, it might not matter all that much. Holder’s spot could have gone to someone like Gallegos this winter, but if the Yankees don’t think he’s a better pitcher or even worth protecting in the end, it’s probably better that they gave someone like Holder some experience. Roster management for the Rule 5 Draft is probably not the most crucial part of a season, so I doubt that giving Holder some extra time will cost the Yankees anyone vital to the future of the organization. They didn’t lose anyone for good last year, and they probably don’t have to worry much this year.