200 Players, 40 Spots – A Major League Conundrum

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Photo Credit: Jonathan Mayo

 

*All statistics were accurate as of entering play on Friday, August 25*

The Rule 5 Draft isn’t the most noteworthy event for most baseball fans. It occurs annually in December, and a lot of teams don’t make many (if any) selections on that day. In fact, only one Hall of Fame player in league history was chosen in a Rule 5 Draft (Roberto Clemente). Briefly, for those who don’t know, the event is an opportunity for MLB teams to select players out of other team’s farm systems. Each team is permitted a maximum of 40 players to protect, and if one should choose to make a selection, it pays $50,000 to the chosen player’s former team. There are some other rules and details as well, that you can find at http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/minorleagues/rule_5.jsp?mc=faq.

GMs of some teams, however, will likely go into this offseason with that mid-December date circled and highlighted on their calendar. Take the Yankees, for example. The organization is in a fascinating position as of this writing. They have no clear black holes on their roster going forward. No major pieces of the young core are set to hit the open market this offseason. They are in the top-half in both the AL and MLB in terms of youth of active roster, despite still having Ellsbury, Sabathia, Holliday, and Headley on the books. Their payroll projects to fall well out of the top five in the MLB this offseason when the aforementioned Sabathia and Holliday, as well as former slugger Alex Rodriguez, traded reliever Tyler Clippard, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, and injured Michael Pineda hit free agency. Not to mention, Tanaka could still opt out despite his struggles earlier this season after seeming to figure himself out. Factoring in these players coming off the books, we reach a sum of approximately $95 million, according to Spotrac. That would see them fall into the $120 million range, and likely the lowest payroll they would have had in the better portion of the last two decades. A reasonable expectation is that the five players who will have departed from the current roster will be replaced by prospects, say Torres, Andujar, Florial, Sheffield, and Adams. But what about other well-regarded prospects – Abreu, Acevedo, Tate, McKinney, Cave, etc.? How about this stat: as of today, from Triple-A down through Class-A (Short Season) ball, every Yankees minor league affiliate is the leader of their respective division. This is not merely a young team. This is a young organization with a bright future – and they are deep. 200 players, many legitimately talented, and only one out of every five of them can be protected.

 

So, now for the two most obvious questions. 1) Which 40 do the Yankees protect? 2) What do they do with the players on the outside looking in?

 

To answer the first, I’ll break down the players into tiers. Brett Gardner, being the Yankee lifer, but not really fitting into one of the categories below, gets an “unaffiliated” spot. The same goes for Chase Headley. 

 

Tier 1:

 

Let’s consider this the George Steinbrenner group. The veterans on the $15+ million AAV contracts who will almost definitely not be going anywhere, whether or not Hal Steinbrenner & Co. would like a mulligan on the deal. These players include Ellsbury, Chapman, and, potentially, Tanaka. I’m going to take a guess and assume Masahiro won’t opt out of three years and $67 million remaining when he hasn’t posted a sub-3.50 FIP since 2014, is still in the midst of his worst season thus far, and has the arm injury cloud of smog over his head. So, we have our first three players here – again, be it for better or worse.

 

Spots filled = 5/40

 

Tier 2:

 

I’ll make this the “young core” group. These are the young MLB active players who project to have key roles on the team for the foreseeable future. This group is probably best explained consisting of Sonny Gray, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, and Greg Bird.

 

Spots filled = 14/40

 

Tier 3:

 

This is the top prospects tier. The best of the best (at least, according to a couple of lists) that the Yankees farm has to offer, being considered 55+ on the 20-80 scouting scale OR top-10 at their position. Players fitting this bill include guys like Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, Estevan Florial, Justus Sheffield, and Miguel Andujar.

 

Spots filled = 19/40

 

Tier 4:

 

In their own group are the “other guys” of the pitching group. That is, the guys who aren’t Aroldis Chapman, but are proven enough to keep their spots in the bullpen. There’s a lot of players here: Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Jordan Montgomery, Bryan Mitchell, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, Domingo German, and Giovanny Gallegos are all among those relievers who would be at least fairly likely to retain their positions on the roster.

 

Spots filled = 32/40

 

Tier 5:

 

Mostly depth guys. Look at people like Ronald Torreyes, Kyle Higashioka, Garrett Cooper, and Tyler Wade.

 

Spots filled = 36/40

 

2018 Outlook:

 

Gary Sanchez – C

Kyle Higashioka – C

Greg Bird – 1B

Garrett Cooper – 1B

Stalin Castro – 2B

Didi Gregorius – SS

Gleyber Torres – 3B

Chase Headley – 3B/1B

Miguel Andujar – 3B

Ronald Torreyes – UTIL

Tyler Wade – UTIL

Brett Gardner – OF

Aaron Hicks – OF

Jacoby Ellsbury – OF

Estevan Florial – OF

Aaron Judge – OF

Clint Frazier – OF

Masahiro Tanaka – SP

Sonny Gray – SP

Justus Sheffield – SP

Luis Severino – SP

Jordan Montgomery – SP

Chance Adams – SP

Tommy Kahnle – RP

Chad Green – RP

Luis Cessa – RP

Bryan Mitchell – RP

David Robertson – RP

Adam Warren – RP

Ben Heller – RP

Jon Holder – RP

Chasen Shreve – RP

Domingo German  – RP

Giovanny Gallegos – RP

Aroldis Chapman – RP

 

So, to this point, we still have five spots left to fill on this hypothetical roster. Here’s where it becomes shaky. Let’s take a look at the highly-respected statistic of OPS, which, according to Bill James, is “above average” for a player if he surpasses the .767 level. Four players at Triple-A alone have performed at that level this year. Going through the bottom of the minors, 20 players have achieved that level. This is where we have the overflow. Almost definitely, at least 10 players who performed at an “above average” level this season will be exiled from the Yankees organization. But, do any weaknesses exist…anywhere? Surpluses, sure: outfield, for example. On many teams, any of the five MLB-experienced players there would be at least in serious competition for a starting role. But, holes? Hard to come by. A backup catcher with a solid glove wouldn’t hurt, a power-hitting DH, or a speedy bench player are just a few tinker moves the team could make.

 

But, these are the Yankees. Not just the Yankees – the Yankees with a ton of payroll flexibility, prospect depth out the yingyang, and very few holes to address.

 

Let’s take a trip, just for a moment. A favorite of Yankees fans everywhere is now set to begin calling the baseball operations shots of another organization. He’s got a problem of his own, however. His best player is a 28-year-old outfielder, with 49 home runs and counting, respected by many and with a highly-touted work ethic, personality, and commitment level to boot. This player has the organization in debt, because this player is the 10-year, $285 million man Giancarlo Stanton. Marlins incoming top baseball decision-maker Derek Jeter knows he needs to move Giancarlo. The Yankees can use this to their advantage. Such a move is going to take a mouth-watering combination of premium prospect capital, financial muscle-flexing, and of course, a place to put him. Now, sure, most teams “could” find a use for a player of his caliber, but is Boston going to displace Betts? Is Washington moving Harper? Not likely. Teams like Atlanta, Chicago, and San Diego might have better farm systems. You’d probably see a bigger need for him with the Giants or Rockies. But if the Yankees will have one hole opening up this offseason, it’s for a hitter in his prime to go right into the DH slot. Sure, he’s somewhat young, but if you want to make sure you can maximize his legendary all-fields power for as long as possible, and limit his susceptibility to more of the bad luck injuries that have plagued him in the early going of his career, he might be best suited to spend the future as a primary DH. Not to mention, adding a right-handed slugger could help shake up a division called home by some of the most feared lefties in the league, in a lineup something like this:

 

GardnerLF

Castro2B

StantonDH

SanchezC

JudgeRF

Bird1B

Torres3B

GregoriusSS

EllsburyCF

 

Now, in order to get this lineup, the team will have to get creative. Let’s look at a deal.

 

Any deal is probably going to have to include a top-30 MLB prospect, likely meaning Torres or Frazier will have to go. Having Cave at Triple-A, the team decides they are willing to part with Red Thunder in this deal. As a second piece, Miami is going to need a right fielder to replace Stanton. Luckily, the Yanks have just the player in Billy McKinney. Flank them with a latino infielder as a long-term Prado replacement, say the highly-touted Miguel Andujar. As a borderline-contending team, they could probably use a near-MLB-ready piece like Adams, which is fine as the Yankees have Sheffield, Tate, Acevedo, and the resources to go after Shohei Otani. The Yanks also throw in Abreu and agree to take on $200 million to seal the deal. Miami can likely afford a $8.5 million per year surcharge for the prospects they will have acquired.

 

New 2018 Outlook:

 

Gary Sanchez – C

Kyle Higashioka – C

Greg Bird – 1B

Garrett Cooper – 1B

Stalin Castro – 2B

Didi Gregorius – SS

Chase Headley – 3B/1B

Gleyber Torres – 3B

Ronald Torreyes – UTIL

Tyler Wade – UTIL

Brett Gardner – OF

Aaron Hicks – OF

Jacoby Ellsbury – OF

Estevan Florial – OF

Aaron Judge – OF

Giancarlo Stanton – OF

Masahiro Tanaka – SP

Sonny Gray – SP

Justus Sheffield – SP

Luis Severino – SP

Jordan Montgomery – SP

Dillon Tate – SP

Domingo Acevedo – SP

Tommy Kahnle – RP

Chad Green – RP

Luis Cessa – RP

Bryan Mitchell – RP

David Robertson – RP

Adam Warren – RP

Ben Heller – RP

Jon Holder – RP

Chasen Shreve – RP

Domingo German  – RP

Giovanny Gallegos – RP

Aroldis Chapman – RP

 

(five spots open)

 

Following this hypothetical trade, the lineup becomes even deeper and more powerful and the Yankees keep the Steinbrenner Way alive and well with the addition of Stanton, while creating room for several more prospects, giving the team much more flexibility with which to approach the 40-man roster crunch, and keeping Torres, Florial, and several solid arms in pinstripes.

 

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