Tonight is the deadline for Rule 5 protection. Right now the Yankees 40-man roster is at 31 players, but not all of those open spots will — or should — be used for Rule 5 eligible players. Free agents signings still need to make the list, as do any big leaguers the Yankees might find in a trade.
There are a few non-tender candidates, but Brian Cashman has already said he doesn’t expect a roster crunch, and that seems about right. Nine open spots is a lot, especially given the lack of front-line Rule 5 candidates.
Obviously need protection
Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird
In my opinion, these are the absolute no-brainers. Betances is one of the elite prospects in the system, and Laird has put himself on the verge of that group with steady production level after level. The fact Cashman dropped Laird’s name this week as a potential Major League bench candidate pretty much tells the story. Barring a significant surprise, these two will be added to the roster.
Close to major league ready
Wilkins Arias, George Kontos, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope
In my mind, this is the next tier of candidates. All four are pitchers — Arias is the only lefty — and all four could open in Triple-A next season. Kontos was arguably the biggest prospect of the bunch before Tommy John surgery in 2009. I don’t think any of these four is a sure thing to make a big league roster out of spring training, but I think all four would have the potential to do it. I could see one or two of these being protected, but not all four.
Jairo Heredia, Alan Horne, Brad Suttle
All three of these have been bigger prospects than any of the four listed ahead of them, but injuries have taken their toll and slowed their progress. Horne is definitely out of consideration — too many surgeries, he’ll have to prove himself again — but Heredia and Suttle could be wild card choices by a team hoping to go big in the Rule 5. Neither has played above High-A, and I don’t think either could stick on a roster. I’d be surprised to see any of them protected.
Names to know, but not protect
Abraham Almonte, Craig Heyer, Jose Pirela, Kevin Whelan
Almonte is an outfielder who was once seen as having considerable upside, but the results haven’t been there. Pirela is a young infielder who might make sense if the Yankees didn’t already have a wealth of internal utility candidates. Whelan is a hard-throwing reliever who actually had a better chance of making the roster a year or two ago. Of these four, Heyer is the one I can’t quite put a finger on. He’s not a big name, but he walks almost no one — six walks all season — and he was sent to the Arizona Fall League after steady production the past three seasons. I might be underestimating him, but I don’t think he’ll be added.
I will not be stunned if Laird and Betances are the only players added to the roster today. I think there will be one or two more — whoever the Yankees like most out of Arias, Kontos, Pendleton and Pope — but as Cashman said this week, there really isn’t a significant roster crunch developing. The Yankees have room to protect a ton of guys, but probably don’t have the need to protect more than three or four.