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Thirteen Yankees became free agents yesterday. At some point in the next few days, six other Yankees will be taken off the 60-day disabled list. That leaves the Yankees entering the offseason with 33 players on their 40-man roster. That leaves seven open spots.
With those seven open spots, the Yankees need to find a second baseman, a designated hitter, probably one outfielder, maybe another infielder, at least one starting pitcher, and presumably a couple of relievers. The Yankees also have to protect a handful of legitimate Rule 5-eligible prospects including big names like Slade Heathcott and Gary Sanchez and promising pitchers like Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, Tommy Kahnle and Chase Whitley.
In other words, seven open spots probably won’t be enough.
Trades, non-tenders and DFA decisions could open more spots in the next few weeks and months. For now, though, here’s the state of the Yankees 40-man roster as we enter the post-playoffs offseason.
ROTATION CANDIDATES (6)
David Huff, Ivan Nova, Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Adam Warren
Currently in place: These are the most advanced starting pitchers on the roster, and unless someone really shines in spring training — I guess Manny Banuelos could force his way into this mix — these are the only current 40-man pitchers who seem like reasonable candidates to earn starting jobs out of spring training. Certainly Sabathia and Nova seem like rotation locks at this point.
Worth adding: None of the Rule 5 guys is likely to enter this mix right away, but a new deal with Hiroki Kuroda and/or a significant signing like Masahiro Tanaka seem to be perfectly reasonable possibilities this offseason. Hard to imagine the Yankees won’t add some sort of starting pitcher between now and spring training.
Potential subtractions: Although he pitched well down the stretch and could play multiple roles next season, Huff stands out as a non-tender or DFA candidate. That’s especially true if the Yankees add a starter or two.
BULLPEN ARMS (6)
Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Shawn Kelley, Dave Robertson
Currently in place: Based on this list, Kelley looks like a lock for the Opening Day roster. The current 40-man relievers are basically Robertson, Kelley, a few long relief candidates, and some young with a lot to prove. Betances is out of options and pitched extremely well out of the Triple-A bullpen this year, so he’s a strong candidate (at least for now). Same for Cabral because he’s a lefty.
Worth adding: Whitley has pitched well in Triple-A for the past two years, so he’s not only a 40-man candidate, but it’s not out of the question that he could do enough in spring training to win a spot on the 25-man roster. At the very least he’s a very strong 40-man candidate. Free agent deals with a veteran lefty and experienced closer/setup man would also make sense.
Potential subtractions: Daley kind of fits with Huff in that he did nothing wrong last year, but could very easily — almost certainly, even — become crowded out because of other needs. Losing anyone else from this group of six would be a real surprise unless it happened in a trade.
MINOR LEAGUE PITCHERS (4)
Manny Banuelos, Brett Marshall, Jose Ramirez, Nik Turley
Currently in place: Marshall has pitched a full season in Triple-A, Ramirez was terrific in big league camp last year, Turley is coming off strong numbers in Double-A and Banuelos is still one of the high-potential pitchers in the Yankees system. Even so, it’s doubtful any of these four can pitch his way onto the big league roster this spring. They’re basically on the 40-man for the potential of future impact.
Worth adding: There are actually a lot of minor league pitchers who deserve serious consideration for Rule 5 protection. Greene put himself firmly in that mix with his best professional season to date. Kahnle is coming off good strikeout totals out of the Double-A bullpen. Mitchell is a high-end talent, but without high-level experience. Danny Burawa, Caleb Cotham, Zach Nuding and Fred Lewis are a few of the other names who deserve at least some consideration for Rule 5 protection.
Potential subtractions: Obviously teams don’t like to DFA young talent, but Marshall’s poor season in Triple-A could leave him on the bubble, especially if it comes down to him or another Rule 5 eligible pitcher for a single roster spot. I happen to really like Marshall — good sinker, seems to really have a good head on his shoulders — but the numbers are what they are. I’m sure the Yankees want to hold onto him, and he might not clear waivers.
Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine, Chris Stewart
Currently in place: There are already four spots filled by catchers, and not one of them is a clear favorite to be the big league starter on Opening Day. If the Yankees don’t sign a free agent, all four of these could report to camp with a reasonable hope of making the 25-man roster next spring.
Worth adding: Mark Newman clarified last month that Sanchez is Rule 5 eligible, which means that’s an automatic 40-man addition. Sanchez is arguably the top position prospect in the system, so he’ll get a 40-man spot.
Potential subtractions: Romine and Murphy have shown enough promise that they’re likely safe barring a trade. The more curious decisions involve Cervelli and Stewart, each of whom is arbitration eligible and could be non-tendered, especially if the Yankees go after a more proven alternative. It seems possible, though unlikely, that that Yankees could get rid of Cervelli because of the Biogenesis situation.
David Adams, Derek Jeter, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
Currently in place: This is assuming Jeter exercises his contract option to return next season. What you’ll notice is that there’s not a single current infielder who doesn’t come with significant questions. Most notably: Is Jeter still a shortstop? Is Rodriguez going to be eligible? How did wrist surgery impact Teixeira’s productivity?
Worth adding: There are no Rule 5 risks who stand out, instead the infield additions to the 40-man center on immediate Major League needs. For starters, who’s playing second base? If Robinson Cano is re-signed, he takes a 40-man spot and fills the team’s most glaring hole. If not Cano, that likely means either adding someone else or shifting someone like Nunez (or Jeter?) to second base, opening another roster need. Another shortstop might not be the worst idea either. And maybe a third baseman.
Potential subtractions: Nix has done a nice job as a utility man for two years now, but he might also be replaceable enough that the Yankees non-tender him rather than giving him an arbitration raise. Joseph had shoulder surgery last year, so he’s also a strong DFA candidate should the Yankees need to open a roster spot, and I guess even Adams could go if the Yankees add a bunch of infielders. Then, of course, there’s Rodriguez who wouldn’t take up a 40-man spot if his suspension is upheld.
Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells
Currently in place: The Yankees projected center fielder and left fielder are already on the roster, as are several options for right field. At the very least, right now Ichiro and Wells look like bench or platoon players likely to break camp with the team in some capacity. Almonte could also play his way into some sort of role.
Worth adding: Heathcott will be protected from the Rule 5. That much is a no-brainer. It also seems likely the Yankees will extend a qualifying offer to Curtis Granderson, and if he accepts, that could complete their outfield shopping unless they find a cheap outfielder who profiles as an option at designated hitter. If Granderson doesn’t sign, a right field upgrade seems entirely possible.
Possible subtractions: Depending on who’s added this offseason, there’s some chance the Yankees could cut their losses with either Ichiro or Wells (but that seems like a fairly extreme situation, only likely if there are significant signings or trade acquisitions). Flores is a nice young player, but lack of power leaves him fairly limited as a corner outfielder, and that could leave him vulnerable to a DFA if/when the roster gets tight.
Associated Press photo