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Rule 5 Protection Deadline: Reaction

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Elsa - Getty Images

Elsa – Getty Images

Wednesday marked the deadline for MLB teams to protect Rule 5 eligible players by adding them to the 40-man roster. As we have discussed for months, the Yankees have quite a roster squeeze this off-season, and this deadline was projected by many in the media to be the first time this off-season that the Yankees would make significant roster moves. Let’s just say that the Yankees didn’t disappoint. The Yankees made some really interesting decisions that will have an impact for this upcoming season and beyond.

The Big Names

As you have likely heard by now, Jacoby Ellsbury was released, while Greg Bird was designated for assignment. Ellsbury is now an Unrestricted Free Agent, and is eligible to sign with any team for the league minimum, while Bird must pass through waivers, after which he will either be traded, granted his release, or he will accept an assignment to a Yankee minor league affiliate. Realistically, this marks the end of the road for both players in pinstripes.

I wrote about Ellsbury’s 40-man roster situation recently. While the reasons to cut Ellsbury from a baseball perspective were obvious, there was real financial incentive for the Yankees to keep him. Despite the savings Ellsbury could have provided Yankee ownership if he was not healthy enough to play (insurance payments as long as Ellsbury remained on the roster), the Yankees seemingly chose baseball over finances. That is a great development that I hope bodes well for the Yankees as they wade into the waters of Free Agency this off-season.

The other angle here is that Ellsbury may finally be working his way back to good health. Reports came out following Ellsbury’s release that Ellsbury has advanced far enough in his rehab at home in Arizona that Spring Training is in his sights. For Ellsbury’s sake, I hope that those reports are true. However, it is a strong indictment of his current abilities if the Yankees do not think that Ellsbury can even compete to play CF this year despite the fact that Hicks is set to miss a chunk of time due to Tommy John Surgery. The Yankees were nearly burned this year by giving Tulowitzki a shot to be the starting SS in Didi’s absence, so they may not be ready to try a reclamation project two years in a row. Either way, if by some stroke of luck Ellsbury made it through Spring Training healthy, the insurance benefit gained by keeping him around was negated. Kudos to the Yanks for making the smart decision.

Greg Bird is another player who has not been healthy in years. Frankly, Bird’s body has defeated him time and time again. When his body cooperates, I remain confident that Bird can actually hit. However, I think the likelihood of Bird’s body cooperating with him is getting smaller by the year. 2019 proved to be the year that another good left-handed bat emerged in the form of Mike Ford. Realistically, Ford fits the 2020 Yankees better than Greg Bird, so it was time to let Bird try to find a change of scene.

It is important to remember Bird’s impact on the current Yankee core, though. When Greg Bird had his coming out party in 2015, it gave the Yankee front office confidence that the young guns coming up through the system were for real. I really think that Bird’s success in 2015 ushered in the youth movement we saw in 2016 and 2017. I will always remember Bird fondly for that, “Bird is the Word,” and the 2017 playoffs. I hope that Bird finally gets healthy enough to make an impact elsewhere. I wish it could have happened in pinstripes, but the Yankees are right to cut bait now.

The Most Interesting Move

Almost all of the players the Yankees added to the 40-man roster were players that were expected to be protected, but one name surprised me: Brooks Kriske.

Kriske is not a player that many outlets have talked about much since he was drafted in the 6th round in the 2016 draft following 4 years at USC. Kriske had a solid showing after signing, but promptly required Tommy John Surgery and missed the entirety of the 2017 season rehabbing. Kriske continued rehabbing for much of 2018 as well, and was solid, but unspectacular when he did pitch. Coming into 2019, he was virtually unknown outside the organization.

Kriske made waves in 2019. Kriske’s velocity jumped from the 90-93 MPH range into the 94-97 MPH range. Kriske pairs that fastball with a good slider and a knockout splitter that he added just this season. Despite the fact that Kriske was old for both A+ and AA this season, he still found significant success, pitching to a 2.08 ERA over 60.2 IP. More interestingly, his strikeout rate was up to 11.9 K/9. Plenty of relievers are capable of those numbers, but reports of Kriske’s stuff have been universally positive since his velocity jump.

Kriske was not on my radar as someone who could get added to the roster, but the Yankees clearly believe enough in his abilities to protect him…for now.

I am excited by Kriske’s development. The effort is a bit high-effort, but the stuff looks to be for real. Check out this video of Kriske pitching early last season for A+ Tampa. I’m pretty sure this video was taken before Kriske was using the splitter in games, but this gives you a pretty good idea of what he’s like when he’s on:

Wrapping Up the Moves

The only other player designated for assignment was Nestor Cortes Jr. Cortes Jr. is a bit of a throwback, which is fun. He throws from multiple arm slots, changes shapes with his breaking ball, and mixes speeds with his fastball. That said, the performance was never there this year, and the Yankees can likely find better mop-up pitchers.

Estevan Florial, Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson, and Miguel Yajure are all good enough prospects that they surely would have been taken in the Rule 5 Draft. They all deserved to be protected, and kudos to the Yankees for making tough decisions that allowed them to protect these guys for now.

More Moves Are Coming

The 40-man roster is currently full. Obviously, the Yankees have more holes to fill, and it is expected (hoped) that there will be a Free Agent pitcher or two under the Yankees’ Christmas Tree this year. Between Free Agency and trades, it is likely that even some of the guys protected last night could be on the move. Despite being protected, each of these guys remains on the 40-man bubble pending further moves.

I hope Ellsbury, Bird, and Cortes Jr. find success elsewhere (preferably not in the AL East). Besides that, I am thrilled that the Yankees protected guys that could be part of a sustained youth movement.


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