The Yankees’ youth movement continued in earnest on Thursday, when veteran catcher Brian McCann was traded to the Astros for a pair of pitching prospects.

The emergence of Gary Sanchez made the move inevitable. McCann had been limited to designated hitter duty while catching only part-time. However, the scarcity of catching around baseball made him a valuable trade chip, providing the Yankees with plenty of motivation to make a move.

In return for McCann, the Yankees received righthanders Albert Abreu, a highly regarded prospect, and Jorge Guzman. The Yankees also sent $11 million to the Astros to help cover the remaining two years and $34 million on McCann’s original deal.

“Mac has done a great job for us, but with the emergence of Gary Sanchez, he’s now in a backup role and a part-time DH when he’s not catching,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday, before the annual sleep out event to benefit the Covenant House. “So it made sense if we could find something, it would be workable. Houston stepped up and I think all parties got what we wanted.”

McCann, 32, spent three seasons with the Yankees, signing a five-year $85-million deal prior to the 2014 season. In that span, he hit .235 with 69 home runs, with 46 of those coming at Yankee Stadium. But his playing time behind the plate was slashed when Sanchez was promoted. He has since been installed as the catcher of he future.

Cashman said the Yankees have had trade talks with multiple teams about McCann since August. A source said the Mets were never involved, even though Travis d’Arnaud’s regression last season turned the position into a weakness.

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But in the Astros, the Yankees found a trade partner that provided both payroll flexibility and prospects.

“Both of these guys are 20-year-old righthanded starters with big power arms,” Cashman said. “They’re guys that project to be potentially starters in the big leagues. If not, they can collapse in the bullpen. They’re high-octane individuals, real exciting 95-100 mile an hour type ability.”

Abreu went 3-8 with a 3.72 ERA in 24 games with Single-A Quad Cities and Single-A Lancaster last season. The 21-year-old originally was signed by the Astros as a non-drafted free agent in 2013. He most recently was ranked as Houston’s No. 7 prospect by MLB.com.

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Guzman went 3-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 13 games between the GCL Astros and Rookie-level Greeneville last season. The Astros signed him to a minor-league contract as a non-drafted free agent in 2014.

With McCann gone, the Yankees must now sort through their options at designated hitter. Cashman did not rule out a reunion with Carlos Beltran.

“Carlos did a great job for us,” said Cashman, who has had conversations with Beltran’s agent. “He was a tremendous performer this year and a leader and obviously someone it seemed like every potential postseason team had an interest in trading for. So that says a lot about the respect he has throughout the game. Despite his age, he’s still productive.”

The club could could also stick with in-house options such as Aaron Judge and Greg Bird. But Cashman said shedding some of McCann’s salary will give the Yankees the chance to explore other options.

“Now that we have more flexibility, it gives us more choices,” Cashman said. “Whether those current high-end free agents are legitimate choices, it remains to be seen. But ’tis the season to engage and find out.”

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The Yankees appear to be on the periphery of the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes, though more wiggle room with payroll could make such a high-level signing more possible, at least in theory.

“He’s also someone that we’ve had initial conversations and contact with,” Cashman said. “And I’m sure we’ll talk again.”

With Brian Heyman