Monday, November 23, 2009

Forty Spots, Little Freedom

Good morning Fackers. So how was your weekend? Mine - I took Friday off and shot up to enemy territory - Boston. Got to hang out with some old friends, ate some kickass BBQ at Redbones, got to bust on a good friend who's a big Phillie fan, and watched another friend drink a fifth of Captain Morgan 100 proof straight before 11 AM and still make it through the game on two feet. Very impressive. Less impressive was BC's performance - five picks, first home loss of the season, and officially eliminated from the ACC Atlantic race. Also unimpressive was the scene at our tailgate - pretty weak, it ain't like it used to be. But hey, at least we have a short workweek, capped by my absolute favorite holiday. Now, back to baseball.

As we mentioned last week, midnight Friday morning was the deadline for clubs to finalize their 40 man rosters in preparation for next month's Rule 5 Draft. It took several hours for the news to get out, but the Yankees' moves were announced late in the day Friday.

As expected, top prospect Austin Jackson, second baseman/utility man Kevin Russo, and starting pitcher Ivan Nova were all added. Surprisingly though, the Yankees also chose to protect an additional four players: middle infielders Reegie Corona and Eduardo Nunez, and pitchers Romulo Sanchez and Hector Noesi.

With Andy Pettitte finally filing for free agency and Shelley Duncan being outrighted to Scranton, Friday's moves leave the Yankees with 39 spots spoken for on their 40 man roster. Technically, this gives them the freedom to select one player in the Rule 5 Draft - but I wouldn't count on that happening. Firstly, the Yankees are not constructed in a manner that would make it easy for them to fulfill the Rule 5 requirement of keeping a selected player on their Major League roster for all of 2010. Secondly, the Yankees are going to need that one roster spot and likely a few others to add Major League free agents this off-season - which makes the 40 man decisions all the more curious.

The Yankees currently have seven players from the 2009 roster who are free agents: Pettitte, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jose Molina, Jerry Hairston Jr, Eric Hinske, and Xavier Nady. While Nady was a non-factor all year as an injured player, and back-ups like Molina, Hairston, and Hinske can be replaced by internal options (Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Russo, Juan Miranda), Pettitte, Damon, and Matsui all figure to be either resigned or replaced by a comparable Major League talent. And since any free agent inked to a Major League contract needs to be added to the 40 man roster, the Yankees are going to need more than just that one open roster spot.

Thus, it's curious as to why the Yankees chose to protect so many players. I'm sure there was sound reasoning behind it, but it isn't readily evident to me. At the most basic level, the Yankees protected these seven players because they wanted to ensure they would retain their services. But because of the nature of the Rule 5 draft, sometimes the best way to retain a Rule 5 eligible player is to expose him - particularly in the cases of "fringey" players like Corona, Nunez, Sanchez, and Noesi. Last year for example, the Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft: Corona, Nova, Zach Kroenke, and Jason Jones. All four were returned to the Yankees as they were unable to win Major League jobs with the clubs that selected them.

So in choosing to protect protect the likes of Corona, Nunez, Sanchez, and Noesi the Yankees are saying not only that they want to retain these players, but also that they're reasonably confident that the players could win Major League jobs elsewhere. I find this surprising, as Noesi has pitched just 41.1 innings in High A, Nunez has spent just a single season as high as AA, and Corona struggled terribly in a 44 game cameo at AAA last year, earning a demotion back to AA. The Yankees might have had a good chance to retain all four by leaving them exposed while keeping some flexibility with the 40 man roster.

Also curious is that in adding Corona and Nunez, the Yankees now have a glut of utility infielders on their 40 man. Incumbent Ramiro Pena and newly added Kevin Russo give the Yanks a good glove/good stick pairing, adding Corona and Nunez respectively seems to only duplicate that pairing while giving the Yankees twice as many utility infielders on their 40 man as they could rightly need.

The Yankees have a few options as to how to create the necessary spots for free agent signings. Chien-Ming Wang will likely be non-tendered to avoid arbitration, but if he's resigned to a Major League deal he'll need to be re-added. Brian Bruney and Sergio Mitre are non-tender candidates, but the early buzz is that both will be back. Relievers Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez, perpetually injured Christian Garcia, and first baseman Juan Miranda could all be removed from the roster, but all ostensibly represent better options than the players just added.

A more likely scenario could be the Yankees clearing room via trade. Last year's Nick Swisher trade opened a spot by moving Wilson Betemit and Jeff Marquez from the 40 man. Albaladejo and Ramirez may be of some value to a lesser club, and Miranda, blocked by Mark Teixeira, may be of some worth on the market as well. I think the Yanks may want to wait to see how the Damon and Matsui situations play out before moving potential DH candidate Miranda though. A rumored Roy Halladay trade, however unlikely, would clearly remove several players from the 40 man.

Finally, the 40 man roster situation might preclude the Yankees from jumping into the free agent pool right away. The market likely won't materialize until after December 1st anyway, but the non-tender deadline isn't until December 12th. Barring a trade, it might not be until then that the Yankees have the 40 man flexibility to add more than a single free agent. This will be an interesting situation to monitor as the Hot Stove heats up over the next several weeks. The Yankees need a little more freedom with their forty man.


  1. I wonder if they aren't trying to protect them from the Rule 5 draft because they have an eye on trading them?

  2. I suppose that's a possibility. Something's gotta give here. I can't imagine the Yankees plan on moving forward with the roster as it's currently construced, filling bench roles from within and signing a single free agent to fill the #3 starter, left field, and DH openings.

    The easiest way to make room is via trade, unless they plan on doing it via non-tenders and outrighting. I just can't see them going the outrighting route with the players they just added, as they had a better chance to retain those players by exposing them. Nor do I think it's particularly prudent to jettison the fringe guys who were previously on the roster to make room for the new fringe guys. There's little to indicate they're better options now or down the road.

    I'm sure we'll find out soon enough, but right now I don't see any scenario being more likely than others as a way of resolving the roster crunch.