The New York Yankees have some important roster choices to make by today's deadline to make changes to their 40-man roster before December's Rule 5 Draft, with any prospect added to the roster protected from potential selection.
The Yankees have a slew of players to consider this season, some of whom are considered among their top-30 prospects.
As of Friday, the Yankees' 40-man roster stands at 39, so if they add more than one player, they'll need to determine which players they will let go in order to make room for any more additions. Some of these decisions should be easy for the organization.
The Yankees have already indicated they will not tender starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi a contract, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in August and is arbitration eligible. Infielder/outfielder Dustin Ackley is also arbitration eligible and a nonessential component to the Yankees future. Lastly, reliever Nick Rumbelow also underwent Tommy John surgery this season (in April), so the Yankees could choose to designate him for assignment and try to re-sign him to a minor league deal if they are still interested in his services.
Eliminating these spots fits well into my estimation that the club will end up protecting three players at a minimum...
Mateo, 21, had his worst season in professional ball, hitting .254 with a .306 OBP and .379 SLG for High-A Tampa. The speedy middle infielder had 33 extra-base hits and stole 36 bases. Unfortunately, the biggest news Mateo made this season came by way of a suspension by the team for an unknown violation.
Despite all of that, protecting the club's No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline (No. 18 overall) will not be a difficult call. Just last season, Mateo was the darling of the farm system and one down year is not going to be enough for the Yankees to allow Mateo to be selected by another club for nothing in return. The Yankees could take a chance, believing that no one would draft Mateo because he is not ready to claim a 25-man roster slot, but that seems like an unnecessary risk to take.
Andujar thrust himself into the conversation with an inspiring season split between Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Andujar, the Yankees' No. 7 prospect, hit a combined .277 with a .331 OBP and .410 SLG in 570 plate appearances. The third baseman has played well with the Scottsdale Scorpions in this season's Arizona Fall League and the Yankees lack depth at third base in the organization. These factors likely seal his protection.
Enns, much like Andujar, might have parlayed an excellent season into 40-man protection. The 25-year-old began the season in Trenton and delivered a 1.90 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 70 innings. That earned him a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he kept on dominating. In 65 innings, Enns generated a 1.52 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. The way Enns pitched in 2016, he might have an outside shot of being considered for a 25-man roster spot with an exceptional spring training. Protecting Enns makes absolute sense to me.
Better than 50/50 chance of protection...
I believe there are two players who the Yankees should protect simply beause they could replace two other players immediately and be better off for it. I estimate there is better than a 50 percent chance that the Yankees agree.
The first is right-handed reliever Giovanny Gallegos. Gallegos, 25, was exceptional across two levels this past season. He tossed 70 combined innings, compiling a 1.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP while striking out 12.2 batters per nine innings. The Yankees have a number of right-handed relievers on the roster who they could swap for Gallegos. My best guess would be Nick Goody, who has had tours with the Yankees over the last two seasons with uninspiring results - 32 2/2 combined innings with a 5.11 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP.
Another reliever, left-hander Tyler Webb, has a chance to be protected by the Yankees. I look at the current 40-man roster and there are already a handful of southpaw relievers, so the cut could be the oldest of the bunch -- 29-year-old Richard Bleier. Bleier did some nice work for the Yankees in 2016 (1.96 ERA in 23 innings), but Webb has the potential to be a special lefty out of the pen. Webb, 26, has posted a 3.44 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in 130 2/3 innings at Triple-A Scranton from 2014 through 2016, striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings during that span.
These choices leave a long list of players the Yankees might risk losing to the Rule 5 Draft -- Jake Cave, Cito Culver, Ronald Herrera, Brady Lail, Mark Montgomery and Luis Torrens.
Cave, 23, was scooped up by the Cincinnati Reds in last season's Rule 5 Draft, but they ultimately returned him to the Yankees. He had a decent season for Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, generating a .758 OPS in 470 combined plate appearances. Considering the glut of outfielders in the Yankees system, if Cave was drafted again, I cannot see the Yankees being all that upset.
Culver, 24, has failed to fully catch up with the bat after seven seasons in the minors. Culver is the model of a glove-only player. He turned in one of this "best" offensive efforts (combined .654 OPS with Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), but with the high-level infield talent in the organization, the Yankees will likely take their chances that Culver is not drafted. If Culver is drafted, I cannot imagine they sweat it.
Herrera, 21, threw 132 innings (23 starts) for Trenton in 2016, notching a 3.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and an 8.4 K/9. Again, Herrera will likely not be viewed as a player to place on a 25-man roster in 2017, so he should be fine to leave unprotected.
At one point Lail, 23, looked poised to reach the big leagues by 2017 or 2018, but two straight disappointing seasons (4.94 ERA in 129 1/3 combined innings) at Triple-A have dimmed expectations. The Yankees could surprise here, but in the end, I do not think Lail is viewed as a viable pitcher for a major league roster next season.
Montgomery was once considered the top reliever in the organization. He would have certainly been a part of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle in recent seasons had he not succumbed to shoulder injuries. The 26-year-old did generate a 2.56 ERA and a 12.4 K/9 rate in 45 2/3 combined innings with Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2016, but his walk rate (4.3 BB/9 in 2016) continues to be an issue.
Finally, Torrens might be a bubble choice for the Yankees. Since they added Kyle Higashioka to the 40-man roster last month, it points to them not protecting the 20-year-old Torrens. Missing 2015 with shoulder surgery slowed down his growth (he has yet to play above Low-A ball), making it a fairly safe call for the Yankees that other teams will not draft Torrens.
In my view, the Yankees have some easy choices to make in protecting Mateo, Andujar and Enns, with the roster spots to give. If any of the remaining players are left unprotected and then drafted, there is a good chance that they could be returned to the Yankees, or not sorely missed in the long run.