What to do with Rob Refsnyder? • 10.13.15
During these early days and weeks of the offseason, and it’s worth looking at a few players without clear roles heading into next season. Since we started today by looking at the possibility of staying in-house at second base, here’s a young second baseman who spent most of the year crowded out of a roster spot only to have the situation change so drastically that he was in the starting lineup for the wild card game. What should the Yankees do with him next year?
24 years old
Has options remaining, not yet arbitration eligible
This year: Spent most of the season in Triple-A where he made a bunch of errors early and his for a surprisingly low batting average late. In the middle he made a four-game cameo in the big leagues, but he didn’t get another real look in the Majors until late September when he quite suddenly became the team’s regular second baseman against lefties.
A few possibilities for next season:
1. Everyday second baseman in New York
Hard to think the Yankees would go into spring training planning to go this direction, but they might go into spring training believing this to be a possibility. See how Refsnyder does against both lefties and righties down in Tampa, and if he results are encouraging, give him the full-time job with Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan — or a Ryan-type backup shortstop — serving as true bench/utility players.
2. Platoon second baseman in New York
Basically the exact same role we saw at the end of this year with Refsnyder playing second base against lefties and Ackley playing second base against righties. It wouldn’t have to be a strict platoon role for Refsnyder, who could certainly get some turns against right-handed pitchers whenever Ackley is needed as either a backup first baseman or to give one of the outfielders a day off. The Yankees got very good offensive production out of this combination down the stretch.
3. Sent back to Triple-A
If the Yankees sign a guy like Ben Zobrist or make a trade for a guy like Martin Prado — both purely speculative scenarios — I have to think Refsnyder would return to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to wait for an opportunity. Given the age and lingering health concerns on this roster, there’s some logic in filling second base with someone who can play other spots if necessary, knowing Refsnyder could come up and handle second if/when the new second baseman has to play elsewhere.
4. Trade bait to upgrade at second base (or elsewhere)
Since last offseason, the Yankees seem to have been actively opening opportunities for young players. They didn’t trade away top prospects at the trade deadline. They acquired young players last winter. They looked internally to replace injured players during the season. If that’s going to remain the strategy going forward, then the Yankees already have an open window for Refsnyder to take his shot at second base. That said, if the job is this wide-open and they’re still not sold on Refsnyder, they might be better off — and Refsnyder might be better off — with a trade that sends Refsnyder elsewhere and gives the Yankees someone Joe Girardi will actually be comfortable using regularly.
Associated Press photo
So you want Rob Refsnyder to play second base? I can understand that.
Stephen Drew’s hit a bunch of home runs, but he really hasn’t provided many hits in between. Brendan Ryan’s made flashy plays at three different positions, but he really hasn’t hit in five years. Dustin Ackley’s numbers in Seattle suggest he’s more bust than an impact trade addition.
Refsnyder might not be a perfect player, but neither are the older guys in front of him, and at least Refsnyder might benefit from the experience of playing everyday while possibly providing some offensive upside.
You want the Yankees to play the risk-reward kid rather than the disappointing veterans. I get that, and there’s a case to be made for it.
Where the argument loses me is when it blatantly ignores facts and connects dots that don’t exist. The Yankees are trying to punish Refsnyder! They’ve given up on the kid! They’re paying no attention to current performance! They never give young guys a chance!
When those are the arguments in favor of Refsnyder, the conversation dissolves into screaming nonsense instead of reasonable debate. I understand why people want Refsnyder to play, but I don’t think it’s hard to understand why the Yankees are sticking with Drew and Ryan.
Generally speaking, it seems two things have to happen for a young player to get regular at bats:
1. An existing player has to play his way out of a role, either through poor performance, injury, or by reaching the end of his contract.
2. A young player has to play his way into a role, either by forcing the issue with his own performance or by being the best option when a team is forced to find an alternative.
I’m not sure either of those has happened with the Yankees’ second base situation. It’s reached a point that a reasonable observer might prefer rolling the dice on someone newer and younger, but but I don’t think it’s reach the point that making a change is the only viable decision. The Yankees are choosing to stick with the proven defensive players (whose offensive troubles have been perhaps blown out of proportion), and they’re choosing not to give down-the-stretch at-bats to young players (who really haven’t proven themselves this year).
I like Refsnyder. I like him quite a bit, actually. I like his attitude, I like his approach, and I think he has a legitimate chance to be an everyday big league second baseman. He’s a nice player with a good head on his shoulders, but I don’t think the Yankees are being stubborn or short-sighted in keep him on the bench this month.
A few common arguments that don’t work for me:
Well, Greg Bird is playing first base every day. The Yankees called up Luis Severino rather than dealing him for a veteran starter at the trade deadline. When Jacoby Ellsbury was hurt in May, the Yankees cycled through three different young replacements without ever adding an established outfielder. They gave Jose Pirela a long look in the first half. Their bullpen has been overloaded with young guys. When they did make a minor move at the deadline it was for a 27-year-old to replace a 34-year-old.
Go back to the offseason, even then the Yankees traded for a younger shortstop, traded for a younger starting pitcher, and opened the door for a younger backup catcher. When they’ve seen viable opportunities to use young guys, they’ve gone that direction.
Even Refsnyder, when he got red hot just before the All-Star break, was brought up to get some big league at-bats against lefties.
Problem is, when Refsnyder went back to Triple-A, he went cold. He hit just .229/.296/.379 in the second half. Drew’s second half numbers in the big leagues are better than that. Refsnyder’s Triple-A season slash line of .271/.359/.402 isn’t bad, but it doesn’t suggest he’s about to be an impact player in the big leagues, especially not for guy with only a few years at second base, whose bat is going to have to be his carrying tool.
This is Refsnyder’s third full year of pro ball and he’s playing a position he didn’t play in college. To suggest he’s not a finished product is not the same thing as saying he’s never going to make it.
As for Pirela, his Triple-A numbers were outrageous again — .325.390/.433 while playing, basically, anywhere — but it’s hard to ignore the fact he struggled significantly in a part-time big league role earlier this season. There’s certainly a reason the Yankees have kept Pirela around, but his .561 big league OPS is lower than Ryan’s. Again, Pirela has not exactly forced the issue and made a strong case that he’s the better option.
The key words here are “platoon” at-bats and “clearly” better options. This a a limited role, and the alternatives have not played it particularly well.
There are two things a player in this role is supposed to do: play strong defense and hit at least a little bit against left-handed pitchers. Well, Pirela and Refsnyder are notoriously bat-first infielders, and neither one is going to play ahead of Ryan on the strength of his defense. Question is, can they out-hit Ryan enough to be worth the defensive downgrade.
So far, these are their numbers against lefties this season:
Ryan: .286/.333/.500 (in the Majors)
Pirela: .270/.361/.365 (in Triple-A)
Refsnyder: .224/.349/.360 (in Triple-A)
Pirela has hit lefties in the big leagues this season, and we’ve seen him get a little bit of playing time, but it’s not as if Ryan has dropped the ball. Especially at a position where the Yankees are prioritizing defense, Ryan’s offensive performance has been a bonus more than a problem.
Again, if you want to argue that Ryan has a history of not hitting and you’d rather roll the dice with the young guys, fine. There’s something to be said for that. But in a strict platoon role, Ryan’s done the job. He hasn’t played his way out of it, and the two young guys haven’t necessarily played their way in.
This has become a popular way to dismiss Joe Girardi’s decision to keep Drew in the lineup despite his absurdly low batting average with occasional power. It’s easy to suggest Girardi’s preference for veterans means Drew has gotten a longer leash than any other team would have provided.
But that argument ignores the fact Drew’s been a decent hitter — especially for a second baseman — the past three and a half months.
Here is the OPS of a few notable second basemen since June 1:
DJ LeMahieu: .750
Brandon Phillips: .749
Stephen Drew: .743
Jason Kipnis: .729
Dee Gordon: .727
Brian Dozier: .723
Brock Holt: .708
Maybe Yankees fans were spoiled by Robinson Cano, but second base is not a position where teams typically find a lot of reliable offense. The list above includes five guys who made the All-Star team this year, but Drew has been roughly just as productive or more productive since the end of May. In the past three and a half months, only eight everyday second basemen have had a higher OPS than Drew.
As for Girardi being the only manager who would stick with Drew, it’s worth noting that nearly every contending team has at least one position with a Drew-type hitter getting more than 400 plate appearances this season. Drew has hit .202/.273/.383 for the year and .232/.304/.439 since June 1. Meanwhile…
In Houston, the Astros have stuck with Chris Carter (.183/.297/.374) and Luis Valbuena (.206/.295/.405). The Blue Jays have Kevin Pillar (.263/.297/.372) in center field, Ryan Goins (.241/.314/.344) at second base, and they actually made a trade for utility infielder Cliff Pennington (.210/.298/.265) who’s stepped into the lineup since Troy Tulowitzki got hurt. He’s basically their Brendan Ryan-type player on the bench.
The Royals have given Omar Infante (.217/.230/.306) more at-bats at second base than the Yankees have given Drew, and although the Royals more or less replaced Infante with Ben Zobrist, they’ve stuck with Alex Rios (.259/.291/.357) as their regular right field. The Dodgers have kept Jimmy Rollins (.220/.279/.355) at shortstop and only started playing Corey Seager when Rollins was hurt. The Cubs stuck with Starlin Castro (.253/.283/.339) at shortstop through early August, and have since then continued to play him regularly at second. The Rangers have Elvis Andrus (.258/.307/.353) at shortstop, the Twins have Kurt Suzuki (.240/.294/.319) behind the plate, and the Cardinals have given more than 400 plate appearances to Mark Reynolds (.231/.315/.396), who’s been a negative WAR player.
None of this is to say playing Drew is the “right” choice, only to point out that he’s not a unique choice. Veteran players under contract, players who can hit home runs, and players who can play defense get opportunities anywhere.
Come on, now. You know better. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this question the past few weeks, but it never makes any sense. We’ve all seen September call-ups before. We know how this works.
Without an injury or some other factor creating an opportunity, September call-ups rarely play a key role down the stretch. It’s not an indication of the Yankees’ long-term hopes or expectations. There just aren’t enough at-bats to go around for a 39-man active roster. September call-ups are all about depth, making it a little easier double switch late in games and rest some players late in the season. Slade Heathcott showed this week that a September call-up can have an impact without necessarily getting a lot of playing time.
The question isn’t, why bring them up? The question is, why not?
Occasionally there are exceptions. Jesus Montero, in 2011, got fairly regular playing time as the Yankees’ designated hitter in September. But that’s not particularly common. Even Derek Jeter in 1995 got just one at-bat in the month of September. Didn’t mean the Yankees had given up on him or didn’t believe in him. He was a September call-up, and those guys just don’t play much.
If you’d like to see the young guys play a little more, I get that. It makes sense to want to see the young guys, especially when one of them is a prospect like Refsnyder who we’ve heard so much about the past three years.
But the debate goes off the rails when it ignores the reality of the situation.
I would be very curious to see what Refsnyder could do. At the bottom of the order, with no pressure to carry the offense, and with plenty of late-inning defensive options available, I’d be interested to seeing him get a shot. But that’s my own bias toward young players coming through. I might be underestimating Refsnyder’s defensive shortcomings, and in no way to think he would really jump-start the offense from the No. 9 hole. I would just like to see him play because I’m curious.
But to say the Yankees are ridiculous for sticking with Drew and Ryan — to say there’s no logic in that decision — is just wrong.
Associated Press photos
Asked yesterday why Rob Refsnyder hasn’t gotten more playing time this month, Joe Girardi leaned on the familiarity and experience of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan.
“I’m going with the guys that have gotten us here,” Girardi said.
Asked about Refsnyder again today, Girardi cited a specific aspect of his inexperience.
“He spent the whole year in Triple-A,” Girardi said. “He doesn’t know the pitching staffs up here.”
Ultimately, it seems that Refsnyder’s disappointing second half in Triple-A and Jose Pirela’s underwhelming first half in the big leagues didn’t show enough offensively to convince the Yankees that they’re worth risking a defensive downgrade at second base.
After his four-game big league audition in July, Refsnyder returned to Triple-A and hit just .229/.296/.379 in the second half of the season. After having the exact same number of strikeouts as walks in the first half, his strikeout-to-walk ratio jumped to 29-to-12 after the All-Star break. None of that’s to say Refsnyder won’t hit, but he hasn’t forced the issue.
Pirela, on the other hand, had this right-handed utility job early in the year and hit just .212/.232/.303. He went down to Triple-A and raked as an everyday guy, but right now, Pirela and Ryan have played in the exact same number of big league games this season, and Ryan has the higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage to say nothing of his more trusted glove.
In the past two and a half weeks, Ryan has hit .286/.333/.429. It’s only 15 plate appearances, so the sample size is tiny, but he hasn’t been such a zero with the bat that the Yankees absolutely have to replace him. For the year he’s hit .286/.333/.500 against lefties. That’s his job, and in the bigger picture, he’s actually done it pretty well.
Ryan hasn’t hit his way out of this role, and neither Pirela nor Refsnyder has necessarily hit his way in.
• Lately, center field has generated as many lineup questions as second base. Jacoby Ellsbury has hit just .208/.250/.325 since the All-Star break. He’s been especially bad in the month of September, hitting just .114/.152/.114, yet the Yankees are sticking with him in the leadoff spot. “He’s got too much of a history of being one of the better leadoff hitters in the game,” Girardi said. “He had a tremendous start, he went through the injury, he’s had his ups and downs, and to me he’s due to turn and have an up. These guys need to get it done.”
• Against a pitcher who struggles against right-handers, it’s worth noting that the Yankees’ only right-handed outfield alternatives are Chris Young (who’s hit just .185/.241/.346 against righties), Pirela (who’s been mostly an infielder in the majors) and Rico Noel (who’s here strictly to run).
• The Rays have scored the fewest runs in the American League, but that doesn’t necessarily this a great matchup for Yankees’ starter CC Sabathia. The Rays have actually hit lefties pretty well. They have a league-worst .694 OPS against righties, but they’re fifth in the A.L. with a .760 OPS against lefties (better than the Astros, Royals or Rangers).
• Top four hitters in tonight’s Rays lineup with their slash lines against lefties: Brandon Guyer (.267/.374/.422), Mikie Mahtook (.268/.375/.585), Evan Longoria (.352/.414/.568) and Logan Forsythe (.299/.373/.625).
• Girardi said yesterday that he would use Adam Warren as a reliever tonight if necessary, but the hope is to stay away from him and keep him lined up to start on Monday. Warren said it’s unusual but not really a problem to not know for certain whether he’s starting tomorrow. Said he’s familiar with each routine and able to bounce back and forth.
• Mark Teixeira is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which recognizes the player who “best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement.” Each team nominates one player and a single winner will be announced during the World Series. Teixeira has been heavily involved with the Harlem RBI program as well as various scholarship programs. Former Yankees Curtis Granderson and David Robertson were also nominated.
Associated Press photos
During batting practice this morning, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela gathered at the second base position with infield coach Joe Espada. Taking turns, one ground ball at a time, the two young infielders went through standard defensive drills preparing for opportunities at second base.
Of course, the Yankees have now faced two left-handed starters since rosters expanded, and so far neither one has been in the lineup.
“I think we’ll use (the September call-ups) more as we get into this stretch of 30 out of 31 days,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We just had a day off. We had six days and then a day off, but as we get into this, you’ll probably see more guys start playing.”
On Wednesday, against a young left-handed starter with reverse splits, the Yankees stuck with Stephen Drew at second base. Today, against Rays lefty Matt Moore, the Yankees are going with Brendan Ryan.
Refsnyder and Pirela seem to have greater offensive potential. Ryan is the more accomplished defensive option.
“I debated long and hard about what to do today,” Girardi said. “But we decided to go with Brendan. Brendan has been here and our extra infielder, in a sense, all year even though he’s been hurt. Those other two will probably get in the mix, but I decided to go with Brendan today.”
• Against a lefty, one day after he was pulled because he was throwing up, it’s little surprise Jacoby Ellsbury is not in the lineup. “He feels better today than he did,” Girardi said. “But with him throwing up last night and dehydration, I figured I’d give him today. He’ll be available to me unless he takes a turn and gets sick again. Right now he’s better.”
• Yet again the Yankees are sticking with Greg Bird at first base even against a lefty. Bird has hit left-handers since coming up to the big leagues. Clearly he’s the everyday guy while Mark Teixeira is still hurt. Might sit occasionally against lefties, but he’s not strictly a platoon option. He’s the starter.
• One day after his simulated game, the plan remains to have CC Sabathia start on Wednesday. Girardi said there’s no thought of easing him back in with a bullpen appearance. “If he feels good, our plan is for him to start on Wednesday,” Girardi said. “Coming out of the bullpen right now would not be something that he would be used to, and the amount of time it takes to warm up (would be new), so right now our plan is to go on Wednesday with him depending on how he feels the next couple of days.”
• What if Sabathia can’t make that start on Wednesday? “We would probably stay on rotation, then,” Girardi said.
• Nathan Eovaldi gets the start tonight. He’s been outstanding ever since that ugly start in Miami. Clearly the emergence of his splitfinger has been key, but Girardi said it’s more than that. “I just think his confidence has grown during this stretch where he’s pitched really, really well,” Girardi said. “I think his curveball has become more consistent. I think the location of his fastball has become more consistent. The key pitch for him is his split. In his last start, his split was up and he got hit a little bit. We’ve got to get it back down again today.”
Associated Press photos
Speaking to reporters at the Owners’ Meetings in Chicago on Wednesday, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said the decision to hold onto top prospects at the trade deadline was his own preference. He simply was not willing to give them up for a short-term rental.
“I just wasn’t going to do it,” Steinbrenner said, according to ESPN New York. “I don’t think we kind of had the glaring need that you would address by giving up one of your Triple-A prospects, especially not for a loaner. For a guy you’re going to have three months or so. It’s just not something we were going to consider.”
While it’s widely reported the Yankees were willing to give their top lower-level prospect, Jorge Mateo, in a possible deal for Craig Kimbrel, general manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that starting pitcher Luis Severino, right fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird — all three of whom were in Triple-A at the trade deadline — were untouchable.
The Yankees did part with relatively redundant upper-level prospect Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez, but they ultimately did not trade other valuable Triple-A prospects including Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott and Nick Goody. Young and emerging big leaguers Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren and John Ryan Murphy also stayed put.
“I didn’t want to give those kids up,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve been looking at them for two, three years now. They’ve progressed perfectly. And they’re all sitting there in Scranton. Any one of them could contribute now if need be, and we’ve already seen that on Severino the last two starts.”
According to Ken Davidoff at the New York Post, Steinbrenner also mentioned future payroll as a factor in the team’s deadline decisions.
“I have always felt, still feel, that you don’t have to be in that position [the top spender] to win world championships,” he said. “Now that we’ve got all this young talent that’s very close, some of whom are here, I think it’s going to make it easier to do things with the payroll in years to come.”
Associated Press photo
First a quick heads up that we’re going to do a chat tomorrow at noon. Swing by if you can. It might be our last chat before the trade deadline, and it’s certainly our first chat since the arrival and demotion of Rob Refsnyder. So come by tomorrow at noon, distract yourself at work or talk a little Yankees during your lunch break.
For now, a reminder of what Joe Girardi said yesterday regarding the decision to send Refsnyder back to Triple-A and keep Stephen Drew as the regular second baseman.
“We brought (Refsnyder) up to face the lefties to start,” Girardi said. “And you look at Stephen Drew and what he’s done in June, he had a pretty good month in June when you look at his OPS numbers. July, he hasn’t played a lot, the numbers are OK. Since that time that we gave him three or four days off in Oakland, he’s kind of turned it around a little bit. We just felt that, we’re in first place, and Stephen Drew has played a part in that, and we play a lot of games at this ballpark, and this ballpark is favorable to him, and we were going to stay with him for now.”
Is any of that a realistic and reasonable assessment of the situation? Let’s break it down to its individual points:
Basically, the original plan was an in-the-moment decision. The Yankees were facing lefties the last two games in Boston, so Refsnyder came up to play those games (kind of like Cole Figueroa came up to start a couple of games against righties). We’ve seen the Yankees make some marginal upgrades like this in the past. Seems odd to see them do it with such a high-profile prospect — and Refsnyder got a look beyond those vLHP at-bats because he stayed in against right-handed relievers and got one game against a right-handed start — but ultimately, there’s no arguing with Girardi’s comment because that’s exactly what the Yankees did. They used Refsnyder to get through a small stretch of games, then sent him down once the roster got crowded. Seemed he might get a bigger opportunity, but it was a pretty small cup of coffee.
2. “You look at Stephen Drew and what he’s done in June, he had a pretty good month in June when you look at his OPS numbers. July, he hasn’t played a lot, the numbers are OK.”
The battinga verage remained low, but Drew did hit .230/.310/.514 in the month of June. That’s an .823 OPS, which is undeniably great, especially for a middle infielder. That’s better than Brian McCann’s season OPS, and McCann was nearly an all-star. So, yes, in his own way — low batting average, terrific power — Drew had a terrific June. However, it’s worth noting that his terrific June was really built on three games, each of which was a two-homer game. Those were the only games in which he went deep in the month of June, and he finished the month with one hit in his last 14 at-bats. Since the start of July, Drew’s basically hit to his season slash line, so that’s not particularly impressive.
3. “Since that time that we gave him three or four days off in Oakland, he’s kind of turned it around a little bit.”
After a couple of 0-for-4s, the Yankees kept Drew out of the starting lineup for the last two games of that Oakland series at the end of May. At the time, he was hitting .158/.226/.303 and he’d homered one since the middle of April. Drew returned to the lineup for three games in Seattle, had three hits that series, and he’s hit .219/.303/.479 since the brief benching. That’s an OPS jump of .253 points, from .529 before the days off to .782 since the days off. That’s a pretty significant improvement, but it’s come without a spike in the batting average that gets so much attention and makes him so one-dimensional at the plate. Girardi said that Drew had turned it around “a little bit” since the days off, and that’s perfectly true. Still limited, but certainly better since those days off.
4. “We just felt that, we’re in first place, and Stephen Drew has played a part in that.”
This seems like the, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach, and there’s something to be said for that. Clearly the Yankees are capable of being in the division lead with Drew at second base. Does that make him the best option at the position? Not necessarily. The Yankees were also in first place with David Carpenter in the bullpen. They were in first place for much of the time that Adam Warren was in the rotation. Sometimes there are bigger picture things in play and teams always look to get better (the Yankees included). Drew has not sunk the Yankees’ season — and I think he has significant value as an insurance policy at shortstop — but being in first place with Drew isn’t necessarily a reason to keep him in the lineup.
5. “We play a lot of games at this ballpark, and this ballpark is favorable to him, and we were going to stay with him for now.”
The Yankees do play more games at home in the second half, and that short porch in right field does Drew’s left-handed power swing. He has played 40 games at home and 40 games on the road this season. He has the exact same number of walks and strikeouts at home as on the road. His batting average on balls in play is ugly either way. At home, he’s hit .207/.277/.463 with nine home runs. On the road, he’s hit .156/.234/.281 with three home runs. If the Yankees had carried Refsnyder and Drew, they could have played Refsnyder almost every day (against lefties and most righties) and picked some chances to start Drew at home to take advantage of Yankee Stadium. As it is, the Yankees do get to play Drew at home, but they also have to keep using him on the road unless they want to give Brendan Ryan more playing time against righties.
Associated Press photos
Carlos Beltran has been activated from the disabled list, and in a fairly surprising move, the Yankees have optioned Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A.
The Yankees seemed committed to giving Refsnyder a long look at second base — he started each of the past four games and was almost always left in to hit against right-handers and play late-inning defense — but the Yankees have ultimately decided to carry the combination of Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, apparently prioritizing depth and experience in the infield.
“I think a lot of times people are going to have discussions about it, try to gather as much information as you can, and make the best decision you feel at the time,” Joe Girardi said before the move was announced. “Sometimes as you look back, maybe you would have done it a little different, but I think the important thing is that you make the best decision at the time with the information that you have. Guys are very close here, and that’s probably what’s making this decision tough.”
This morning, I believed the two most likely moves were either optioning Branden Pinder and carrying a short bullpen for a few days, or simply cutting Ryan despite a contract that lasts through next season.
“Defensively he’s outstanding,” Girardi said. “He’s a bat against left-handed hitters that you could use. If you wanted to spell someone, he’s a natural shortstop, in a sense, that can play second and third and you could also put him at first too.”
The Yankees seemed happy with Refsnyder’s performance during his brief trial. His defense looked better than advertised — not an elite defender, but he made the routine plays and occasionally made a nice one — and his at-bats seemed fine despite going hitless in three of four games.
“It’s really hard to judge a guy on 12, 13 at-bats,” Girardi said. “I think his at-bats have been pretty good. He put some tough at-bats on Iwakuma yesterday, and he’s been very tough on right handers. He’s had some tough plays, and been able to make them. He’s a work in progress, no doubt about it. He’s made huge strides since we saw him in spring training at second base, and we think he’ll continue to make them.”
• Beltran said he felt good during his rehab assignment, but he never seemed particularly worried about it. He didn’t get any actual rehab at-bats against left-handed pitching, but he went through his normal workout and BP routine from the right side of the plate, and said he’s not worried about that being an issue.
• The expected impact of Beltran’s return? “It gives you another run producer,” Girardi said. “He’s had a good year for us, and hopefully he can pick up where he left off, and be another dangerous bat who drives in runs and hits the ball out of the ballpark.
• Girardi on playing Drew at second base: “Drew has faced Felix,” Girardi said. “Felix is pretty tough on everyone, and we’re going to put as many lefties as we can in the lineup.”
• After a setback earlier this month, Mason Williams is playing catch again. He played catch today and said he feels like his shoulder is getting better. He said he’s been playing catch for a few days now.
• Here’s Girardi on the new expectations for CC Sabathia: “I think two or three years ago, he was the guy that a lot of times gave the bullpen a day off. We don’t necessarily expect that any more. We’d love to have him get back to that form, but there’s a lot of innings there over his career. He’s worked very hard, and he’s been a big part of our success here. As I said, he’s the one guy that’s been through this (playoff) race thing a number of times in his career, and we need him to contribute and somewhat lead because he understands it.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi has not officially named Rob Refsnyder his everyday second baseman — in fact, he’s said over and over again that it’s a day-to-day situation — but this morning, Girardi basically declared Stephen Drew to strictly a utility man who’s playing time will come on a pick-and-choose basis.
“He’s been as good as anyone I’ve ever been around in handling all of this this season,” Girardi said. “We talked about what he needed to do, the different spots that he played, and he talked about just trying to help this team win. He’s been great.”
Girardi said he’s told Drew to take ground balls all over the infield. While he might play some second, it certainly seems that Drew is first and foremost a bench player, not really a platoon player or a guy who could get anything close to everyday at-bats going forward.
“We want him to be able to play all three positions, second, short and third,” Girardi said. “We’ve asked our middle infielders to be able to do that if you want to give Headley a day off, if you want to give Didi a day off, obviously he’s going to play some second as well. Those sort of things. He’s prepared to go in anywhere.”
What about taking advantage of Yankee Stadium with Drew’s left-handed power?
“The days that I probably try to use him, I’ll try to take advantage of this ballpark, absolutely,” Girardi said.
• Bryan Mitchell has been optioned back to Triple-A so that he can get stretched out as a starter. Giradri said Mitchell could actually start tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre game in Louisville. “I thought he did a good job (in the big leagues),” Girardi said. “And as I told him last night, it’s not that you did anything wrong; you actually did a lot of good things for us, but we need to stretch you out.”
• Without Mitchell, the Yankees Triple-A rotation was Luis Severino, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Davies and a pair of relievers trying to start for the first time (Diego Moreno and Danny Buraway). After a couple of starts in Triple-A, I have to think Mitchell would immediately be the top choice for a call-up for either long relief or a spot start.
• Branden Pinder is here to fill the open bullpen role.
• If they Yankees needed a spot starter right now, could either Adam Warren or Chris Capuano do the job, or have they been in the bullpen too long? “They could do it,” Girardi said. “But it comes down to a point where you probably couldn’t get a ton of distance out of them, and then you’re not going to have them for three or four days in your bullpen. … Would I feel comfortable throwing Adam 50 pitches? Probably. Capuano 50 pitches, maybe a little bit more? Probably, but not much more than that at this point. I think they’re able to build back up quicker now because they’re in shape.”
• After playing three rehab games with High-A Tampa, Carlos Beltran will fly back to New York today. “There’s a good chance he’ll be activated tomorrow,” Girardi said. No roster move announced, obviously, but the way Girardi talked about Drew pregame made me think Drew’s job is safe. That leaves either Brendan Ryan, Garrett Jones or a reliever as the most obvious choices to open a roster spot. I can’t imagine Ryan’s feeling very comfortable at this point.
• Can Girardi remember a player like Chris Young, who’s numbers are so drastically different against lefties than against righties? “There’s not one that’s really coming to mind,” Girardi said. “You look at his numbers against left handers this year, they’re off the chart. And his at-bats off of right handers have been pretty good. He just missed hitting a home run last night, but I understand there is a pretty big gap between them.”
Associated Press photos
Even as he plays almost every day and provides one of the most consistent bats in baseball, Alex Rodriguez talks a lot these days about the value of taking some time off. A four-day All-Star break? There’s value in that. A few games off in National League parks? Keeps him fresh. Even a year long suspension, Rodriguez says, might have had its benefits.
“I don’t know if I needed (the All-Star break),” Rodriguez said after tonight’s game-winning homer. “I felt good coming off Boston, was swinging pretty well, but the rest has been good for me. It was very beneficial when I was serving my suspension. Maybe the four days (helped). So far so good.”
Playing for the first time since Sunday’s win at Fenway, the Yankees were sharp tonight. Masahiro Tanaka made a couple of mistakes to Kyle Seager, but otherwise delivered a strong start. Chris Young delivered two more extra-base hits against a lefty. The infield defense was good and steady.
Then there was Rodriguez, who went hitless in his first two at-bats before singling and scoring the tying run in the fifth inning, then hitting his 19th home run of the season in the seventh. Rodriguez has had a go-ahead RBI in each of the Yankees’ past four games.
“I think Joe (Girardi) deserves a lot of credit,” Rodriguez said. “He’s put me in a situation where I can help the team win. I think the DH job for me has been good because I’m able to prepare differently, and I feel comfortable. … It’s been huge for me, I’m really enjoying it, working hard at it. Every day, I’m just trying to continue with my routine.”
The decision to keep Rodriguez confined to designated hitter — especially in interleague games on the road — has been the source of much discussion, but Girardi seems sold on the idea that keeping Rodriguez out of the field is keeping his body fresh, and Rodriguez hasn’t argued. In fact, he’s gone out of his way multiple times this season to talk about the positive impact of the DH job and the way extra rest has helped him.
“I’ll have to pick some sporadic days off (for Rodriguez), especially as we get into some of the longer stretches,” Girardi said. “And I’ll do that. He held up great the first half, and I expect him to hold up well the second half and be productive.”
Rodriguez didn’t look rusty tonight. He looked rested and ready to push the Yankees division lead to 4.5 games.
“A guy like Al,” Chris Young said, “who’s been around the block a few times, been in every situation, been in the World Series, had a lot of success in a lot of different situations, where you’re able to slow the game down, (is able to) keep things in perspective and come through in big situations.”
• Carlos Beltran went 0-for-2 with a walk in tonight’s rehab game. Even if he catches a flight back to New York tomorrow morning, it’s unlikely he’ll be activated for Saturday’s game. Looks like he’ll return Sunday at the earliest. “I heard that he came out OK,” Girardi said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk about what we’re going to do. It would be pretty hard to put him in the lineup tomorrow.”
• For anyone thinking a trade is in the works because Ramon Flores and Austin Romine were pulled from tonight’s Triple-A game, Brian Cashman said Romine came out because of a thumb issue that was bothering him even before the All-Star break, and Flores was pulled because he was hit by a pitch, but Cashman wasn’t sure how serious it was.
• By the way, Aaron Judge played center field again in that Triple-A game.
• Speaking of minor league guys, I was told tonight that Slade Heathcott is close to playing in rehab games. Mason Williams said he spent all of the All-Star break in New York getting treatment on his shoulder. He’s still a long way from playing in games.
• Tanaka retired seven of his last eight batters after the second Seager home run. “The at-bats against Seager, they were just bad pitches that I threw and he got the most out of it,” Tanaka said. “But other than that, I felt pretty good out there. Pitches were coming out of my hand pretty good, and I was able to pitch the way I wanted to. … I think a lot of the offspeed (pitches) were going from strike to ball, and they were swinging at them, so I think they were pretty good. I want to try to replicate that in my next outing as well.”
• Because he’s a solid evaluator, here’s Rodriguez on Tanaka: “I think he’s just been more consistent lately. His fastball command’s better. I thought his splitfinger got better as the night went on. I think he’s doing a better job of damage control. And for us, especially at home, it’s such a weapon having Betances and Miller at the back of the bullpen, because we know in a tight game like today, one run may be the difference, and it was today.”
• Why pull Rob Refsnyder against a right-handed reliever late in the game? In a tight game, Girardi was trying for a Yankee Stadium home run. He also was pretty sure the Mariners were unprepared for a pinch hitter, but Seattle stalled long enough to get Vidal Nuno ready for a left-on-left at-bat against Garrett Jones. “I was trying to pick up a quick run with Garrett,” Girardi said. “I knew that Nuno wasn’t ready, but by the time they threw over twice and went to the mound and stood there, they got him ready.”
• Even though Refsnyder went hitless, Girardi seemed impressed again. He left Refsnyder in to play defense in a one-run game in the eighth. “He looked pretty relaxed to me,” Girardi said. “Some tough plays. Some really tough plays tonight, and he made them all. Between hops. Slow rollers. Go to your left. Turn a double play, try to turn a double play. There really wasn’t an easy play for him tonight.”
• Refsnyder on his first roll call: “It was pretty cool. You hear about it and stuff like that. Obviously it was the furthest thing from my mind today, but it was nice. It was nice to hear my last name pronounced correctly. It’s rare.”
• Young just keeps crushing lefties, bringing exactly the kind of right-handed balance the Yankees had in mind when they re-signed him. “I’m happy I’m just able to get the opportunity, that’s the main thing,” Young said. “To be able to get consistent at bats, have the opportunity to get out there, try to find a streak to get going,, and if you slow down, still get the opportunity to go out there and find my way out of it. Consistent at-bats has always been the biggest want for me, as a player, and Joe’s given me a lot of opportunities, so I’m grateful for that.”
• Dellin Betances has struck out multiple batters in each of his past eight appearances, matching his eight-game streak from earlier this season. … Andrew Miller is a perfect 19-for-19 in save opportunities, extending his franchise record for consecutive saves converted to start a Yankees tenure. … The Yankees have homered in 33 of 42 home games this season.
• Let’s give the final word to Tanaka, talking about his first seasons playing alongside A-Rod: “I think he knows really how to hit the ball. It seems like once the ball comes off his bat, it just kind of flies. Being in the outfield shagging before games, you can see how well he gets to that ball and lets that ball fly out, so it’s pretty impressive.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have used 17 rookies this season. They’ve called up an additional pair of rookies who never got in a game. They’ve had 11 players make their big league debut, which is the second-most in the Majors.
There has been a movement of youth in the Bronx, but there hasn’t necessarily been a youth movement.
Of those 17 rookies, only one could be considered a significant impact player this season, so choosing the Yankees first-half Rookie of the Year is easy. It’s Chasen Shreve and it’s not even close. Two and a half months from now, that might not be the case. If Rob Refsnyder is going to stick around and play regularly, he could ultimately have a bigger impact in a half season than a middle reliever has in a full season.
For now, the Yankees’ rookie class seems to fit into these categories.
No longer trying to be perfect with every pitch, Shreve began throwing at max effort last season and got himself to the big leagues. This year, he’s had staying power with a 0.98 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. Shreve seemed to the third piece of an offseason trade that involved David Carpenter and Manny Banuelos, but it’s Shreve who’s had the biggest impact this season. He’s been excellent as both a long man and a go-to, late-inning reliever.
TO BE DETERMINED
Rob Refsnyder, Bryan Mitchell, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder
Clearly Refsnyder’s ultimate impact is still a mystery. He looked good over the weekend, and word is he’s going to stick around beyond the break, but prospect status doesn’t make him a definite impact player. Like Refsnyder, Mitchell is also on the active roster for the time being. He’s finally getting a look in the bullpen, but he’s not getting many opportunities to prove himself one way or the other. I’ve included Rumbelow and Pinder in this group because each one pitched pretty well and lasted more than a game or two, but neither was trusted with a key role. They’re each back in Triple-A at the moment.
Take away an at-bats requirement, and the Yankees OPS leaderboard looks like this: Refsnyder, Heathcott, Rodriguez, Williams. That’s one through four, the only guys on the team with an OPS higher than all-star Mark Teixeira. Of course, the problem is that three of the four lasted fewer than 10 games. Heathcott was the first to get a call-up after the Jacoby Ellsbury injury, but he went down with a knee issue after six hits in six games. He’s now on the 60-day disabled list. Williams eventually filled that same replacement role, had four extra-base hits in eight games, and also landed on the 60-day.
Chris Martin, Jose Pirela, Jacob Lindgren, Ramon Flores, Jose Ramirez
To some extent, each of these guys had a real chance to stick and play a role. Martin broke camp with the team and initially pitched his way into some high leverage situations, but his performance dropped and he was replaced. Pirela seemed to be the favored right-handed platoon infielder, but he never hit in a part-time role and now seems to be on the outside looking in. The Yankees clearly wanted to give Lindgren a real look as a potential impact reliever, but he was too inconsistent and wound up optioned (and then hurt). Flores made a strong first impression, but he ultimately had a sub-.500 OPS and wasn’t even used when Carlos Beltren went on the disabled list. Ramirez is a harder one to figure out. He spent about a month on the roster last year, but the Yankees haven’t been especially keen on using him this season, and he hasn’t pitched well when given a chance.
SHORT-TERM FILL INS
Cole Figueroa, Jose De Paula, Diego Moreno, Danny Burawa, Matt Tracy
Upon arrival, no one on this list had the look of a long-term solution. Each one was called up to fill a specific need — Figueroa to play third base against a few right-handed pitchers; everyone else to provide fresh arms when the bullpen was depleted — and each was fairly quickly sent back to Triple-A. None of these five got into more than two games. They didn’t necessarily do a bad job, they just weren’t brought up with the intention of keeping them around. I suppose you could put reliever Joel De La Cruz and outfielder Taylor Dugas into this category as well. They were each called up but never actually played. Each one has since been taken off the 40-man roster.
Associated Press photo