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How the Yankees managed to avoid an offseason roster crunch

The Yankees had a lot to do before the winter

Baseball: World Baseball Classic-Dominican Republic at Colombia Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been said many times over that the Yankees have a roster crunch coming in the offseason. With a minor league system bursting with prospects, it makes sense that there won’t be room for all of them once they come of age. In anticipation for this coming issue, the Yankees have made some moves that effectively alleviated the roster from any concerns this offseason.

At this year’s trade deadline, Brian Cashman acquired Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Jaime Garcia, and Sonny Gray. In order to do all that, the Yankees needed to part with some good talent in return. Guys like Blake Rutherford, James Kaprielian, and Jorge Mateo were effectively sacrificed on the altar to give the major league team a better chance in 2017. These three trades, however, have also helped the organization manage it’s 40-man roster beyond this year.

Every winter, MLB has the Rule 5 Draft, which allows teams to take eligible players from other organizations and place them on their roster. When top prospects become eligible, it means they must be aded to the 40-man roster to avoid other teams taking them. While the best players are going to be protected, some middling prospects can lose out. When a team like the Yankees has so much youth, some hard decisions are inevitably going to be made.

Rutherford and Kaprielian were still some ways away from needing to be protected on the 40-man roster, but the other players the Yankees gave up likely didn’t have a place in the organization long term.

Who was traded

The deal that brought over Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle also included Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo heading back to the White Sox. Clarkin was a first round draft pick out of high school in 2013. Such a pedigree would have made him desirable to other teams. He’s dealt with multiple arm issues, and though he’s avoided surgery, his strikeout numbers have plummeted. The Yankees clearly saw a chance to unload someone they felt didn’t have a future in the organization.

Polo was an international signing who has been in pro ball since 2012. His ability to hit for average and get on base are admirable, and when the Yankees picked him up last season, he was hitting a career-high in home runs. Unfortunately, his power disappeared again in 2017, making him more expendable. You know what they say, teams prefer their guys over someone else’s anyway.

The Yankees made the deal for Jaime Garcia by trading Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns to the Twins. Moving Enns opened up a roster spot for Garcia now and again in the offseason once the veteran leaves as a free agent. I freely admit that maybe Littell was a bit much for Garcia, but we can’t know what negotiations were like. While Littell’s stats were good, we also don’t know how the Yankees evaluated him internally. Regardless, it allowed them to clear more space.

In the Sonny Gray deal, the Yankees surrendered Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler from the 40 in order to get their new acquisition onto the roster. Mateo was more of a depth chart move, since he was kind of trapped with Did Gregorius and Starlin Castro above him and Gleyber Torres passing him.

Dealing Fowler was possible because the Yankees have plenty of outfield depth. He had just hurt his knee and it could become a recurring issue. Now that Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier had arrived, and Jacoby Ellsbury will remain, Fowler had no place to go. Both players were expendable.

The Yankees also made smaller, more forgettable deals that have helped make room this offseason. Yefry Ramirez, who was on the 40, was sold to the Orioles for additional international bonus money. Matt Wotherspoon and Dillon McNamara were also sold off before they were to become eligible for the rule 5 Draft.

That’s six rule 5 guys moved and four 40-man roster opened up in a matter of weeks. Gray, Robertson, and Kahnle might be here for next year too, but CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, Todd Frazier, Michael Pineda, Jaime Garcia, and maybe Masahiro Tanaka are going to be free agents. That gives the Yankees a handful of roster spots for free agents and the large collection of players still coming up through the system.

Who could be protected

The arrival of Gleyber Torres allowed the Yankees to trade Mateo. Even with the elbow injury, he’s an elite talent who is considered one of the best in the league right now. The Yankees will clearly protect him this winter. Thairo Estrada emerging as a legitimate prospect has also made things interesting. His ability to hit for average and improving power as a middle infield could make him someone to watch very soon. Having both on the roster would add incredible depth.

The season that Billy McKinney has put together likely made it easier for the Yankees to part with Fowler. McKinney was a former top prospect with the Athletics and Cubs before things began to fall off for him. A broken knee also didn’t help matters, but he’s turned things around in 2017 and should get a spot on the 40.

The Yankees have a few relief pitchers to choose from in Stephen Tarpley, J.P. Feyereisen, and Nestor Cortes. The first two have shown to be strikeout artists with major control issues, while Cortes is a former 36th rounder who has stuck around as a soft-tossing lefty. As much as I have been personally rooting for him, it’s clear the Yankees saw the limits of his abilities when they moved him to the bullpen. Erik Swanson, who came over in the Carlos Beltran trade, could also be in consideration.

Other players who will be eligible but probably won’t be protected include Abiatal Avelino, Dan Camarena, Cale Coshow, Rashad Crawford, Mike Ford, Brady Lail, and Mark Payton. It’s also important to note that Chance Adams will not need to be protected this offseason.

Overall, that’s a huge difference in the amount of players in consideration. The Yankees moved six Rule 5 guys and four players on the 40-man roster in order to make things easier on the the team later. It also allowed Cashman to get what the team needed now in exchange for pieces that wouldn’t be around later. That’s mission accomplished, I’d say.