By Andy Singer
Welcome to another SSTN Mailbag! This is a different week for me. As I sit here on this November Friday, I’m thinking a lot about the interplay between baseball and family. I know that there are tons of cheesy, made-for-Hollywood metaphors about how baseball parallels the bond between brothers and fathers and sons, but for once, I’m going to indulge those inner pangs. I’m a very lucky person in so many ways, but the single most important way in which I’m lucky is that I have just about the best family a person could ever ask for. On the same parallel, I’ve had the same in-season and off-season throwing partner for close to 30 years now. We may not long toss from 300 feet anymore (really), but he’s still by far my favorite person with whom I can zip a ball back and forth. For anyone who’s ever played baseball, they know that a person’s throwing partner is among the most sacred bonds players can have. I’m just lucky that my throwing partner happens to be my brother. This weekend, I get to watch my throwing partner get married to someone I’m proud to call my sister-in-law. Forgive me if I find myself daydreaming about playing catch with my brother as little kids in our childhood yard, even as I respond to questions. Each week, I do a monologue prior to the start of the mailbag, and it just seemed right to give my brother a shout out, even if this opening is only tangentially related to baseball.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coning to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. There were a bunch of great questions this week, but one came in that I think deserves the lion’s share of the attention today. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll analyze all of the difficult decisions that will be made in the coming days regarding the 40-man roster and the Rule 5 Draft. Let’s get at it:
Marc asks: The Yankees obviously made a huge mistake by allowing Garrett Whitlock to make it to the Rule 5 Draft last year. The Yankees need to make sure that doesn’t happen again. The 40 man roster seems full so who needs to be protected still and how will the Yankees do it even if they don’t have any spots available today?
This is a great question. Even Brian Cashman will admit that exposing Whitlock to the Rule 5 Draft was a mistake in retrospect. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Whitlock had Tommy John Surgery in 2019, and the pandemic restrictions on access to minor leaguers in 2020 meant that the Yankees were not able to get as much information about player progress as they would have liked. This led to a real information gap for a lot of teams, meaning that there was more talent available in the Rule 5 Draft than is typically available. Whitlock gained almost a full grade on his fastball during the time away, and despite popular expectations regarding recovery from Tommy John Surgery, velocity gains following that surgery are not common. If you recall, I actually brought up Whitlock as someone that should have been protected prior to the Rule 5 Draft, but even I didn’t see a performance like what we saw in 2021 coming. With all of that being said, I think it makes sense to get a jump on some of the decisions that Brian Cashman and crew need to make.
Let’s start with the assumption that the 40-man roster is full. It may be full right now, but it won’t be for long. In trimming the fat, here are some easy players that can be jettisoned quickly on an as-needed basis:
Odor needs to be replaced with a better, more versatile bench option; Abreu is similar to every other reliever coming up in the Yankee system; the Yankees proved in 2021 that they don’t trust Gittens at the MLB level; Nelson imploded in 2021, and his control remains an issue; and Britton will miss all of 2022 after TJS. That’s 5 spots right there. Here are 4 other possible 40-man casualties that could be controversial:
I still think Voit gets a contract tendered, but there’s at least reasonable speculation that he could be non-tendered; Andujar has significant injury issues, hasn’t hit since 2018, and is basically position-less at this point; the Yankees have multiple good lefty relievers that profile similarly to Luetge, so he’s replaceable; and Florial’s pitch recognition issues remain so horrific at AAA, that he is likely to be passed in 2022 by multiple prospects on the depth chart. Without discussing any trades, we have gained 5-9 spots on the 40-man roster.
I am not going to go through every guy that needs to be protected in the Rule 5 Draft, but we will talk about multiple players in tiers, including some prominent players who likely will not be protected. Here are the tiers:
No Chance At Protection:
Addison Russ, RP
Matt Sauer, SP
Pablo Olivares, OF
Sauer and Russ were once prominent pitchers in the Yankee system who just haven’t performed; neither would stick at MLB. Olivares is a decent, low-level prospect without enough experience to stick, so the Yankees can safely leave him unprotected.
Slim Chance At Protection:
Michael Beltre, OF
Matt Krook, RP
Shawn Semple, RP
Ron Marinaccio, RP
Beltre is a nice, upper level outfielder with good speed, but without enough tools to stick at MLB. He might one day be a 4th outfielder, and could even be selected in the Rule 5 Draft this year, but I wouldn’t expect it to go anywhere. Krook had great numbers this year with tons of groundballs, two solid pitches, and a proven ability to go multiple innings…but there are a lot of minor leaguers who look like that as relievers. Semple is a borderline prospect who rose quickly to AA this year with good stuff, but it’s a reliever profile. Marinaccio had huge strikeout numbers out of the bullpen, strong enough that he deserves notice despite coming out of seemingly nowhere.
Take A Hard Look At Protecting:
Anthony Garcia, 1B/OF
Brandon Lockridge, OF
JP Sears, SP
Garcia has some of the loudest tools in the Yankees’ system. He moves pretty well for someone who’s 6’6” and a physical Adonis with nearly 80-grade raw power that he showed an ability to get to in games. He’s not advanced enough to stick at MLB in 2022, but some lowly team could find a way to stash him at the back of the 25-man roster.
Lockridge is a must-protect for me, but I’m not sure others view him similarly. He has plus speed and is a plus fielder in the outfielder (maybe between average and plus as a CF). Most importantly, Lockridge found a new gear at the plate, finally tapping into some power with emerging plate discipline. If that continues, he might be an option by the end of 2022.
Sears is a solid spot-starter type with a slight uptick in velocity from 88-91 to 91-93 MPH with enough pitchability to get through an order more than once. He reminds me a lot of Garret Whitlock. Enough said.
Josh Breaux, C
Oswaldo Cabrera, 2B
Everson Pereira, OF
Randy Vasquez, SP
Josh Breaux is one of the Yankees’ top catching prospects in the system, and if he gets to enough hit tool to access his plus raw power in games, he could be a solid offensive minded starter behind the plate with a good arm.
Cabrera is the best 2B prospect in the Yankee system and would surely be snagged if exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.
Like Cabrera, Pereira has loud tools that finally showed up in games in 2021. He could easily be a fast-riser through the system in 2022. Pereira’s tools scream everyday outfielder, and that’s not someone who get’s exposed to the Rule 5 Draft.
Vasquez burst onto the radar in 2021 after finally finding some control. He has some of the highest spin rates in the system on all of his pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, and change-up), and it often looks like he’s throwing a whiffle ball out there. Vasquez has been a popular trade target, so expect the Yankees to protect Vasquez.
The Yankees have some difficult decisions coming up. By my count, I see at least 7 players who should be protected, and the Yanks still need to leave room for Free Agent acquisitions. This is going to be an active offseason.