Weekly Mailbag: Rule 5 Protection, Rotation Questions, and Cano’s Legacy!
By Andy Singer
It’s supposed to be Hot Stove season, but…the market seems as cold as its been in the Northeast this week. Admittedly, we really don’t see a ton of activity until the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year, but we generally start to hear the churn of the rumor mill. Thus far, it’s really been crickets besides the obvious: the Mets are likely to be spenders, Cleveland wants to cut payroll and trade Lindor, and did you know that the Yankees have issues at catcher? I’ve said numerous times this year, as have others, that I expect the Free Agent market to be incredibly depressed this year. Most owners have made it clear through their actions that purse strings will tighten, and all but the cream of the crop on the market will take a hit. We’ll see where it all goes, but I’d like to at least have some interesting rumors to discuss soon.
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about Rule 5 protection candidates, rotation and roster questions, and Robinson Cano’s legacy! As always, send your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll answer the best few each week. Let’s get at it:
Dave in VA asks: Who are the Yankee prospects vulnerable to the Rule 5 draft, and who are the most likely ones to be snatched up?
I was actually going to write a full post on this topic until Dave wrote in, so thanks, Dave! The Rule 5 Draft has been really interesting in recent seasons not necessarily because teams have made moves that actively help their teams in the immediate future, but because some legitimate prospects have been picked despite the fact that they need to be hidden on a Major League roster for a year prior to finishing their development in the minors. The most famous case likely still haunts the Yankees, as I’m sure they’d love to still have Luis Torrens given their issues at catcher. As a refresher, the Padres took Torrens in the Rule 5 Draft despite the fact that he had not yet played beyond High-A ball and had lost tons of development time to arm injuries. They stashed him as a 3rd catcher on the big league roster for a year before sending him back to AA to finish his development, splitting time between the minors and the majors ever since. Torrens has since been traded to the Mariners, but there is evidence he is ready to contribute as a solid defensive catcher who may be able to hold his own as an average hitter. More rebuilding teams are giving the Padres’ strategy a try in recent seasons, so the Yankees have good reason to worry that some players with prospect potential in the low minors could be snatched up in the Rule 5 Draft.
First off, the Yankees currently have just 36 spots filled on the 40-man roster, and they can likely easily gain two more spots by cutting the likes of Brooks Kriske (a replaceable reliever) and/or someone like Mike Ford (non-starting caliber first basemen are generally replaceable, despite the fact that I’m the president and only member of the Mike Ford Fan Club). That gets us to 6 open spots. That may sound like a lot, but signing 3-4 Free Agents would quickly fill those spots, giving the Yankees a real roster crunch (yet again).
At least upfront, I expect the Yankees to protect 4-5 players, and then cut back as needed due to Free Agent signings. A complete list of Rule 5 Eligible Yankee prospects can be found over at Pinstriped Prospects. I’m going to separate the players who have a shot of being protected into the following buckets:
Clarke Schmidt, RHP
Alexander Vizcaino, RHP
Schmidt is a no-brainer. He’s easily one of the top-3 prospects in the Yankee system, and he’s on the cusp of being a big league contributor. Vizcaino is one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects, and was a fast-riser in prospect circles prior to the pandemic. Assuming he’s healthy, I think the Yankees will protect him as they do not want another team to swipe him up and stash him in their bullpen.
Yoendrys Gomez, RHP
Oswald Peraza, SS
Roansy Contreras, RHP
Gomez is a classic case of a pitcher who signed with the Yankees and added significant velocity in the low-minors. The Yankees seem to like him, and I have no doubt that someone would stash him in their bullpen. Peraza is the Yankees’ best SS prospect, though he is likely at least 2 years from the Majors. His defense is strong, and he’s gained popularity in scouting circles, so I think the Yankees will protect him despite his distance from the Majors (consider him the ghost of Rule 5’s past). Contreras has the potential for 3 solid pitches and good velocity, so he’s another guy the Yankees would likely want to protect. He’s probably closer to the Majors than Gomez, and though his fastball doesn’t pop off the page in the same way, he does enough well that I think he’s more likely to stick in a big league bullpen if forced.
Trevor Stephan, RHP
Stephan was a 3rd round pick in 2017, and has reached AA. He hasn’t performed up to expectations as a starter, though control isn’t a problem and he strikes out a ton of batters. Command has been a serious issue, as he often leaves pitches hanging over the plate with a high-effort delivery. A move to the bullpen could prove beneficial, and Stephan could get picked in the Rule 5 with that in mind.
Less Likely, but Possible:
Glenn Otto, RHP
Garret Whitlock, RHP
Nolan Martinez, RHP
Otto was drafted in the 5th round and made the rare conversion from reliever to starter. He’s held his own as a starter in A+, though he likely doesn’t profile as a starter as he climbs the ladder. Some team could pluck him in the Rule 5 and let him air it out in relief, but he’s a tick below the other Yankee reliever-conversion candidates in the minors. Whitlock doesn’t wow you with stuff, but he knows how to pitch and has reached AA. The Yankees really liked Martinez when they drafted him in the 3rd round, and despite injuries sapping him of any fastball velocity, he has an aptitude for missing the sweet spot of the bat. I really don’t think he’ll be protected by the Yanks, but it wouldn’t shock me to see someone pick him as a reclamation project, hiding him in the bullpen for a year.
Lionel asks: will rosters be comprised of 26 players? if so, and if the team re-signs Tanaka, is there any thought to having a 6-man rotation this season? that would allow the Yanks to sign another starter as well as allow .additional rest for all of them.
As far as we know, rosters will be comprised of 26 players as intended in 2020, though the uncertainties surrounding the public health crisis could certainly change that. For now though, I think all teams have to operate under the assumption that rosters will have 26 players.
As I noted in my broad guideline for an offseason plan, I think stability and certainty are attributes that the Yankees need in the rotation, and for that reason, I really hope that Tanaka returns to the Yanks for the 2021 season. No matter what the Yankees do for the rotation in 2021, barring a blockbuster trade, it will be a staff that is both young beyond Cole and lacking anyone that can be realistically counted on for 185+ innings based on track record. I think in terms of quality, the rotation is in a good spot assuming that Tanaka returns and Severino returns at mid-season. Assuming these pitchers stick around, none of Garcia, Montgomery, Schmidt, Loaisiga, Yajure, German, Cessa, Nelson, Medina, or Abreu can be counted on for a ton of innings, but a collection of all of these guys could be part of the solution in the rotation. At the beginning of the year, given that Severino is not projected to return until the end of June at the earliest, I’m not sure a 6-man rotation makes sense, as the Yankees won’t quite have the depth to rely on 6 guys each turn through the order. However, it would not surprise me at all to see some piggybacking or rotation shuffling with a shuttle squad every couple of weeks at the back end of the rotation early in the year.
The calculus changes somewhat once Sevy returns, however. A top of the rotation with Cole, Severino (assuming he’s even 90% back), and Tanaka is a formidable top-3, though all could use a bit of extra rest in the dog days of summer if the Yankees’ goal is to peak in October. By July, I think the Yankees could make a 6-man rotation work with the crew listed above. The projections for any of the 5 pitchers who could pitch in the 4 or 5 hole in this scenario are remarkably similar from a total value perspective, so I think a 6-man rotation is doable, and it could keep the Yankees’ pitchers fresher in the long-run.
However, this strategy depends on a couple of things. For one, a 6-man rotation that features 3 starters that likely won’t provide length will tax the bullpen, so a bullpen configuration that includes one or two guys who can pitch multiple innings a couple of times per week will be essential. I’m on record as saying that the Yankees need some help to return the bullpen to its previous glory, and that becomes even more important with a 6-man rotation. Secondly, if the race in the AL East is really tight, I’m not sure the Yankees will rely on a strategy that means fewer starts from their ace. Without expanded playoffs, the Yankees really need to avoid the one-game Wild Card play-in, so if the race is tight in August, I’m not sure a 6-man rotation makes sense.
There is a ton of value to a 6-man rotation, and I would love to see it for at least part of the season in combination with some other strategies for which I’ve long advocated.
Mike asks: Robby with another ban for PEDs. What is his legacy now?
On a personal note, this actually hit me really hard. I know that there are a lot of Yankee fans that disliked Robby by the end of his tenure due to a perception of laziness and the massive contract he took to leave New York, but I loved Robby Cano, and I’ve admired him from afar even as he’s aged. I loved the grace with which he manned the 2B hole in the infield, gliding to balls that looked like sure-hits only to combine grace with a rocket throw to get the runner. Seriously, as great as Cano was at the plate, I think that all of us have lost sight of just how good Robby was at 2B. DJLM is a rock defensively, but I’m never in awe watching him the way I felt watching Cano defensively. I know that we can make statistical arguments to dispute that, but for once, I’m just talking about the aesthetics of the game.
I also loved watching Cano rip line drives all over the field. When Robby was on, his bat control was truly an underrated skill. Robby was far from the one-dimensional hitter that has become so common in today’s game, and it was a joy to watch during his career in pinstripes.
I think that’s why it hurt so much to see both of Cano’s positive PED suspensions. The first suspension, for a banned diuretic, could be explained away, but there’s no explaining away Stanozolol. This isn’t even a new-age, boutique steroid: Stanozolol has been popular for decades in activities like bodybuilding, so there’s really no way Stanozolol gets into your system in any way other than purposeful injection or ingestion. Without question, Robinson Cano cheated. For how long, we don’t know, but it almost doesn’t matter. When we all think of Cano, the first thing we’ll remember isn’t his grace in the infield, his bat control, his carefree smile around the ballpark, or the might of his picturesque swing. First and foremost, we’ll remember him as a cheater, and that hurts.
Cano is the best 2B I saw play in my lifetime, but no matter what, that now comes with an asterisk. Time may heal these wounds to some extent as far as Cano’s future around the game, but it won’t change the questions that will now haunt his time as a player in the game. By all means, Cano deserves the shame and ridicule that comes with the suspensions. It just didn’t need to be this way, and for that, I will always be sad.