Even in the context of a pretty quiet winter (so far), this really was a quiet week for the Yankees.
The biggest news came on Thursday when the Yankees protected four prospects from the Rule 5 draft while also opening one 40-man roster spot by sending Zelous Wheeler to Japan. Wheeler made his major-league debut this season after signing a minor-league deal last winter. He was an obvious DFA candidate — despite the Yankees lack of infield depth — and the team turned his spot into a few hundred thousand dollars.
More significant were the four prospects added to the 40-man roster.
Tyler Austin was an easy choice for protection given his strong second half and his potential as an impact hitter. Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder were also obvious candidates because of their big fastballs and potential to help out of the big league bullpen as early as Opening Day.
The curious choice was Mason Williams, who was protected despite underwhelming offensive numbers the past two years. He’s a good runner and a strong defensive player, and the Yankees felt he was too much of a Rule 5 risk if left exposed (could easily have fit as a team’s fourth or fifth outfielder). Also, the Yankees haven’t given up on his upside. Just two years ago, many outlets considered Williams to be the Yankees top prospect.
• Three big bits of news that didn’t involve the Yankees this week: Giancarlo Stanton signed a record contract with the Marlins; Russell Martin agreed to a five-year deal with the Blue Jays; and there was a high-profile trade that sent Jason Heyward to St. Louis and Shelby Miller to Atlanta. For the Yankees, it’s the Martin deal that stands out. He’ll be back in the division one year after a terrific season with Pittsburgh.
• Two bits of news that seem to work in Dave Robertson’s favor: Zach Duke got a three-year deal to pitch out of the White Sox bullpen, and Andrew Miller reportedly has multiple three-year offers already on the table. It seems teams are willing to give money and years to relievers this offseason, and Robertson is arguably the top relief pitcher on the market.
• Brian Cashman did his annual sleep-on-the-sidewalk thing on Thursday night, helping raise awareness and funds for Covenant House. At the event, Cashman said he’s still not certain whether Hiroki Kuroda wants to pitch next season, but he’s still expecting Kuroda to pitch somewhere — either in the U.S. or Japan. The Yankees are certainly in the market for a starting pitcher, so that could be an option at some point.
• Speculation about Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada continues to gain steam, and this week Baseball America declared the Yankees to be the favorites to sign the 19-year-old. The sooner Moncada is cleared by the government, the better for the Yankees, who can’t sign him after July 2 because of penalties for overspending this year.
• The Yankees did add one more international free agent this week, reportedly agreeing to a contract with Colombian outfielder Bryan Emery. That’s the latest piece in a massive international haul for the Yankees this season.
• Among the notable Yankees left exposed to the Rule 5 draft are first baseman Kyle Roller and relief pitcher Mark Montgomery. Roller put up strong offensive numbers in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, but all-bat players are not ideal Rule 5 fodder — hard to carry a guy like that on the bench — and the Yankees decided to take their chances, though one source indicated the team gave consideration to putting him on the roster. Montgomery, on the other hand, once seemed to be the team’s top relief prospect, but that was before a shoulder injury and disappointing numbers in the upper levels.
Associated Press photos