The Yankees continue to pluck petals off their 40-man roster flower to make room for the free agents they're slowly adding. Last Friday it was Josh Spence for Kevin Youkilis, this week it was Jim Miller for Ichiro Suzuki. Neither Spence nor Miller are a great loss from the 40-man, and both cleared waivers and accepted assignments to Triple-A to help boost the all-important organizational depth at that level. But the removal of players like them for the Youkilises and Suzukis of the world paired with the addition of a half-dozen guys for Rule 5 Draft protection has resulted in a bit of a strange 40-man roster breakdown right now, at least to me. The Yankees' lack of high-ceiling upper MiL talent has never been more on display than it is presently, and their current 40-man roster is a perfect example of a team (and an organization) in transition.
Breaking the roster down to illustrate that point, I've come up with 4 categories of players represented on the roster at this moment: No-doubt Major Leaguers, Triple-A/Quadruple-A fringe guys, Double-A/Triple-A players, and injured players. Here's how those categories fill out:
1) No-Doubt Major Leaguers (20): David Aardsma, Joba, Hughes, Kuroda, Boone Logan, Nova, Pettitte, Phelps, Clay Rapada, Mo, D-Rob, Sabathia, Chris Stewart, Cano, Jeter, Teix, Youkilis, Gardner, C-Grand, Ichiro
2) Triple-A/Quadruple-A (9): Cody Eppley, Francisco Rondon, Adam Warren, Cervelli, Romine, Eduardo Nunez, CoJo, C-Dick, Melky Mesa
3) Double-A/Triple-A (7): Dellin Betances, Brett Marshall, Jose Ramirez, Nik Turley, David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores
4) Injured Guys (4): ManBan, Cesar Cabral, Michael Pineda, A-Rod
Maybe I'm just thinking about it too negatively, but having a 40-man roster only half full with players who are actually capable of being productive full-time Major Leaguers doesn't seem like a recipe for success. Less than half of those 21 are under the age of 30, and the collection of players in the next level below isn't exactly spilling over the brim with talent. Eppley did some nice things last season, and Cervelli, Nunez, and The D have had their moments, but if any of those 9 are replacing a player on the Major League roster, the Yankees are taking a big production hit.
The most interesting group to me is that group of 7 mid-level Minor Leaguers. These are guys who are all clearly on the radar as future contributors, and that fact has gotten them more roster consideration than it normally would because of the upcoming payroll cutting goals, but the chances of any of them stepping into a major role with the big league club in 2013 are incredibly low. Maybe Adams, but that's about it. Factor in the 3 younger guys who are injured and not expected to be back until early summer at the earliest, and that's 25% of the roster that's really not being looked at as helpful for this season.
The Yankees' payroll plans have them straddling the line between remaining competitive in the title hunt and preparing to rebuild, and that is reflected greatly in the present construction of their 40-man roster. There are almost as many Minor Leaguers on it as Major Leaguers, and few who can be considered "top" prospects. I know none of this is news to anybody, but I found it interesting and it's just another way to look at the difficulties this effort to get under the luxury tax threshold is causing. There's a lot of opportunities out there to be had for this young group of potential future Yankees, but also opportunity for the Yanks to be in a tough spot if the injury bug starts biting at the Major League level again.