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The Roster Dominoes Are Starting To Fall

Aroldis Chapman (54) delivers a pitch during the MLB Grapefruit League Spring Training game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL. (Photo by /Icon Sportswire)

The New York Yankees brand brings with it a sense of excellence. The organization is deep in tradition. Bringing its fans a championship contender year in and year out is their mantra. A total tear down and rebuild of its major league team is not how they do business. The 2017 Yankees are not likely to win a title, but they don’t want to field an embarrassment either.

The Yankees came into this offseason with two glaring holes. The first is a middle of the lineup bat that comes with a short commitment so as not to block the coming youth movement. The second is a lockdown closer stabilizing the back end of their bullpen.

Before the start of the winter meetings, the Yankees signed 36-year-old free agent Matt Holliday to a one-year $13 million contract. He figures to be the primary designated hitter. The seven-time All-Star also has the ability to play the outfield and first base, providing insurance for the rookie starters. He should bring a veteran presence to the middle of a lineup that was desperate for offense last year. The one-year deal means he is just a temporary solution and he is aware of that.

The closer that the Yankees targeted is very familiar with the organization. The team acquired Aroldis Chapman last offseason from the Cincinnati Reds after a domestic violence allegation surfaced. The left-hander was suspended for the first 30 games of the 2016 season before returning as the closer. He brought excitement to the fans by routinely lighting up the radar gun with triple digit readings. He was later traded to the Chicago Cubs and was very instrumental in the ending of their 108-year championship drought.

General Manager Brian Cashman was quoted as saying “clearly our intent is to bring Chapman back because, as we stated, we’ve had him, we know he can handle New York, there’s not a draft pick attached to him.”

The 28-year-old did sign a five-year $86 million contract, shattering the previous record for a reliever that Mark Melancon signed only days earlier, $62M. Chapman’s deal is pending a physical. It also will require a roster move, as the team already has a 40-man roster that is full.

There comes an inevitability when a farm system gets as loaded as the Yankees’ is right now. There’s only so many players that can be protected. Valuable players get exposed to other teams.

Last week, Jacob Lindgren was placed on waivers. The team planned to resign their 2014 top pick to a minor league deal while he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Instead the Atlanta Braves signed the strikeout factory to a major league deal.

At the conclusion of the winter meetings, the annual Rule 5 draft was held. As expected, the Yankees had several players selected. Four were chosen in the 13 selections of the major league portion. An additional three were lost in the minor league part.

20-year-old catcher Luis Torrens, the team’s top catching and #17 prospect, highlights the players that were taken. If he doesn’t stay on the San Diego Padres 25 man roster all year, he will be offered back to the Yankees. That is possible since he has yet to play above Class A.

2012 first round pick right-handed pitcher Ty Hensley is amongst the five pitchers that were taken. Also right-handed pitchers Tyler Jones and Kelvin Magallanes and left-handed pitchers Caleb Smith and Tyler Webb were taken. Valuable infielder Kevin Cornelius rounds out the players taken. I would like to wish each of these players the best of luck on their new opportunities.

Colten Brewer (Photo by © Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

In the AAA rule 5 draft, the Yankees acquired two players. 26-year-old catcher Jorge Saez will provide depth at the position. He spent last year playing for the Toronto Blue Jays AA affiliate. 24-year-old Colten Brewer is a right-handed pitcher that was selected from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In hindsight, the promotion of right-handed pitcher Jonathan Holder, the MiLB pitcher of the year, may have been a mistake. He was brought up to the major’s last summer, which required him to be placed on the 40 man roster earlier than his service time would have demanded.

Because Chapman was traded mid-season last year, the Cubs were ineligible to tag him with a qualifying offer. This means that the Yankees will not have to forfeit their first-round pick in next year’s amateur draft for signing him. Originally, the Yankees were slated to pick 17th, but the Colorado Rockies have forfeited the number 11 pick to sign Ian Desmond. If the Miami Marlins can ink Kenley Jansen, they will lose the 13th selection. This would nudge the Yankees from 16 to 15.

Based on River Ave Blues projections, the Yankees 2017 payroll is going to end up in the $220 M range, roughly $25M over the year’s luxury tax threshold. That is if the roster stays pretty close to the same as it is now. The vaunted minor league system will have another year to develop. Several large contracts, including Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, will be expiring at the end of the season, making 2018 the likely year that the payroll finally is tax-free, as owner Hal Steinbrenner has often stated is his goal.

However, this team has a lot of assets. If the team is fading from contention at the trade deadline, might Cashman decide to further stock the system? The groundwork for a potential trade has been laid at these winter meetings. Getting under this year’s $195M tax number is possible.

Outfielder Brett Gardner and third baseman Chase Headley have been rumored to be subject of trade talks for months. Masahiro Tanaka is the ace of the rotation, with a looming opt-out clause. What would he fetch? Does Sabathia have one more playoff run remaining in his left arm? Holliday could be this year’s Carlos Beltran. Right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda would be nearing free agency. Even outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would only have three and a half years left on his albatross of a contract.

Cashman has proven to be astute at making deals. In two separate trades last winter he traded RHPAdam Warren and infielder Brendan Ryan for second baseman Starlin Castro as well as right-handed pitchers Rookie Davis and Caleb Cotham, third baseman Eric Jagielo and utilityman Tony Renda. At the trade deadline, he traded Chapman for Warren, shortstop Gleyber Torres, and outfielders Rashad Crawford and Billy McKinney.

Now that Chapman has resigned let’s take a closer look at what he gave up compared to what he got back. Davis, Ryan, Jagielo, Cotham, Renda, and three months of Chapman for Castro, Crawford, McKinney, and Torres, likely a top 5 MLB prospect. Five non-descript minor leaguers for a starting second baseman, a future perennial all-star, and additional promising chips.

There is still a lot of offseason left. There will be several more moves to be made. Players will come, others will grow. The Yankees are far from the team that will be winning championships, but the excitement is building. There is light at the end of the tunnel that this proud franchise will once again reclaim its spot as the premier franchise in an ever growing and evolving sport.

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