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
Rob Refsnyder made his Major League debut on Saturday, got his first hit and first home run on Sunday, and there’s a chance he could be off the Yankees’ roster by Friday.
That’s not to say optioning Refsnyder is the right move or the wrong move, only that it seems to be an entirely possible move. In fact, before Refsnyder’s big performance on Sunday, I was convinced it was the most likely move.
“I think he played well,” Joe Girardi said after yesterday’s strong performance. “Obviously, we have four days off and I have a lot of time to think about things as we move forward, but he played well.”
By Friday, the Yankees expect to have Brendan Ryan off the disabled list. Ryan will easily replace Gregorio Petit as the utility infielder. That move is pretty obvious. Where it gets tricky is the return of Carlos Beltran. When Beltran is ready — either on Friday or sometime over the weekend — the Yankees will basically have five choices.
1. Option Rob Refsnyder
That would leave the Yankees with exactly their projected Opening Day position players (before Ryan was hurt in spring training). It would leave Stephen Drew as the regular second baseman, Ryan as the platoon middle infielder, and Chris Young and Garrett Jones as the go-to pinch hitters off the bench. It would leave Refsnyder getting everyday at-bats in Triple-A. It would mean maximizing the available infield depth.
2. Cut Stephen Drew
That would mean trusting Refsnyder to handle second base, and trusting Ryan to stay healthy enough to be the backup shortstop behind Didi Gregorius (with, I guess, Petit and Cole Figueroa becoming the third-string shortstop options should someone get hurt). It would mean giving up on a guy the Yankees have stood by so far, and giving up on a veteran Girardi clearly likes.
3. Cut Brendan Ryan
That would leave Refsnyder to play at least a platoon role, very similar to the way Jose Pirela was used earlier this season. It would also leave Drew as the backup shortstop and while still getting some playing time at second. Refsnyder would at least play against lefties, he’d probably get some starts against righties as well, and he might hit his way into everyday status. It would sacrifice some shortstop depth and leave the Yankees without a right-handed option at short.
4. Cut Garrett Jones
That would leave the Yankees with only four true outfielders and no true backup at first base. It would give the option of platooning at each middle infield position, preserve the depth at shortstop, and would leave a guy like Ramon Flores or Kyle Roller (or Aaron Judge or Greg Bird) only a phone call away if someone got hurt. This might be the least likely of the five proposed scenarios, but it’s worth mentioning because Jones’ role is so limited.
5. Carry six relievers
That would probably mean optioning little-used Bryan Mitchell to Triple-A. For at least a few days — with an off day Monday and with everyone well rested — the Yankees could carry a six-man bullpen and a five-man bench, giving them a longer look at Refsnyder without necessarily committing to the permanent loss of either Ryan or Drew. This would be a short-term solution, with a fresh reliever called up eventually.
So far, the Yankees have given no indication of what they plan to do. Both Girardi and Brian Cashman have said Refsnyder was called up to play against lefties this weekend, and that what’s next is to be determined. Refsnyder made a strong impression with the bat on Sunday, and it seems significant that he was left in to hit off a right-hander and play late-inning defense. He made some nice plays in the field and looked fully capable of handling the position.
If the Yankees do send Refsndyer down after the break, it could mean several things. Could mean they’re not sold on the idea of giving him everyday at-bats (still not ready to give up on Drew). Could mean they don’t like the idea of using him in a platoon role (and would rather use Ryan for that purpose). Could also mean that they’ve given up on Pirela (and simply preferred the combination of Figueroa and Refsnyder to get through those last five games before the break, with no plan of ever changing the everyday situation).
I would not be stunned to see the Yankees go with either Option 1 or Option 3. Option 5 would simply buy some time before the real decision is made, Option 4 feels more like a theory than a realistic scenario, and Option 2 would require a bold commitment to a young player with only two games of big league experience.
One way or another, the Refsnyder decision will be a curious one immediately after the break.
Associated Press photos
There was a turning point for Rob Refsnyder, but the details are fuzzy.
He doesn’t remember the exact date, but he knows it was earlier this season. He can’t remember the exact game, but the 1996 ALCS was on television. Cal Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar were the Orioles’ middle infielders, and Refsnyder vaguely remembers each one making either an error or some sort of defensive mistake during the game.
That’s when something clicked, and the Yankees’ top second base prospect stopped being so worried about screwing up.
“These are Hall of Fame caliber players; the best players of their generation,” Refsnyder said. “Mistakes are going to happen. If I’m going to make mistakes, I want to be aggressive and I want them to be on my terms. I’ve worked extremely hard. Mistakes are going to happen; it’s part of the game. In baseball, everybody’s not perfect. I didn’t want to be passive.”
Long touted for his offensive potential, Refsnyder’s most significant roadblock was his defense. The converted outfielder he played a sloppy second base in spring training, and he made 11 errors in his first 37 games this season in Triple-A. Even as his bat got in May, his glove was still a problem.
But he’s playing second base in Boston tonight because something changed. Two errors since May 23, plus other adjustments that don’t always show up in box scores.
“There’s not too many people who go from the outfield to the infield,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s usually maybe the other way around. So I still thought (in spring training) he was learning parts of playing second base. … We just told him we thought he had a bright future, just go play and get more reps, offensively, defensively and focus on the things you need to focus on. He’s done that, and he’s improved steadily, and he’s swinging the bat well, so he’s here.”
Against left-handed starting pitchers today and tomorrow, Refsnyder will be in the lineup. Beyond that, the Yankees aren’t really saying what they’ll do. It seems to depend entirely on how Refsnyder’s playing and what alternatives are in place.
“You’re going to have to think about things as we move forward,” Girardi said. “But you’re going to have to see how he plays and how he adjusts. Are we naming him our second baseman? No. He’s been called up and he’s going to play against these left handers and we’re going to see where we’re at. … I think anything’s possible here. The thing about the game and the world we live in, if you produce, you’re going to play. That’s the bottom line.”
Is Refsnyder just the next Jose Pirela meant to play once or twice a week? Is he going to play ahead of Stephen Drew after the break? Does he have a short leash or plenty of rope to make adjustments? So far there’s no indication one way or another.
“I just know that I’m in the starting lineup tonight,” Refsnyder said. “Yesterday I was in Buffalo, and I’m in Boston now. I have to get ready for a game. I can’t really read too much into it. All I know is, that’s the best batting-nine-hole I’ve ever seen. It’s awesome and extraordinary. I’m just going to pay as hard as I can and help the Yankees win a game. Hearing me say that is a pretty cool experience.”
• Chase Headley went through batting practice on the field. As far as I could tell, he had no problems. “I’m planning on it being a normal day,” he said before BP. “I did a lot of stuff yesterday, felt great, still feel great today. It’ll be just like any other day. If somebody felt something in BP, you get pulled, but it’s not something I’m expecting. I expect to go out and play like normal.”
• The Yankees did not immediately announce a roster move for Refsnyder because they wanted to make sure Headley got through batting practice without a problem. I assume it will be either Cole Figueroa or Gregorio Petit either optioned or DFA.
• Yesterday, Girardi said he was thinking about giving Headley the whole weekend off to give the knee plenty of time to rest. Headley wants to play. “If I was like, ‘I may be able to play, I may not,’ then sure, sit out the rest of the time,” he said. “But I don’t feel that way. I feel like I could have played yesterday, the way I moved around and ran and did all that.”
• Still no rotation announced for after the All-Star break. Girardi said he wanted to make sure the pitchers involved knew their dates before announcing it to the public.
• Funny story from Refsnyder: He and Aaron Judge were actually watching The Fugitive when Refsnyder got the call yesterday. They were so wrapped up in the movie that Refsnyder didn’t answer his phone. “It was a pretty good movie,” Refsnyder said.
• Refsnyder’s parents, sister, fiance and future in-laws came to Boston to see his debut. “Walked around, got a bite to eat. Nothing crazy,” Refsnyder said. “My parents and my sister, who I haven’t seen in a long time, came and that was pretty cool. Just mellow. We’re a pretty mellow, laid back family. Nothing too crazy.”
• One last comment from Refsnyder: “I’d be fooling anybody to say I wasn’t nervous and excited. This is a cool opportunity, something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. This is one of my dreams to play Major League Baseball, and it’s coming true, so nervous excitement, definitely. Not going to front here and say I’m not nervous, but it’s a good thing because we’ve got a lot of great guys in this clubhouse who have always made me feel comfortable even in spring training. I’ve got guys like Murphy, who just walked me down to the field. Great guys, great human beings, so they’re making it as easy as it possibly can be.”
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At some point, this day was going to come. At least, that was the expectation. It clearly wasn’t going to happen out of spring training — the way he was used in big league camp made that much clear — and it wasn’t going to happen in early April when his bat was cold and he was making far too many errors to suggest his defense had improved.
But today is the day. Today, Rob Refsnyder arrives.
The Yankees will call up their top upper-level middle infield prospect to play second base tonight in Boston. It’s perhaps an unusual moment to make such a move with just two games before the All-Star break, but Refsnyder is hot and the Yankees have decided this is the time to do it.
Now that we know when he’s coming, though, there are still many more questions to answer. Here are four of them:
1. Just how good can he be?
Offensive potential is what’s made Refsnyder a highly touted prospect, but I have to assume he will hit at or near the bottom of the order when he arrives. Thing is, he’s a good hitter, and could have an impact well beyond that of a typical No. 8 or 9 hitter. In Triple-A, Refsnyder was hitting .290 with as many walks as strikeouts. He had 17 doubles, seven home runs and 10 stolen bases. While he made 11 errors in the first month and a half of the season, he made only two since May 23. In his past 10 games, he was hitting .412 with two homers, 10 walks and three strikeouts. This guy could be pretty good, but is his ultimate ability that of a solid regular or of an impact No. 2 type hitter? We’ve heard about this guy for a while now — and he rates very highly in terms of makeup — now it’s going to be interesting to see just how well he can play at this level.
2. What happens to Stephen Drew?
If Refsnyder is strictly coming up to play a platoon role and hit against lefties, then this question should be: what happens to Brendan Ryan? But surely the Yankees expect more than that out of their most obviously big league ready prospect. Surely Refsnyder is coming up here because the Yankees see him as a better alternative to Drew’s bizarre production of good power, solid defense and the worst batting average in the majors. If Refsnyder’s going to be the regular second baseman, what are the Yankees going to do with Drew? Will he become the utility infielder? Will he be replaced by Ryan to provide a true platoon option at shortstop. For now, I assume Cole Figueroa or Gregorio Petit will go down to make room on the roster (with the other going down when Ryan is activated). But what happens when Carlos Beltran comes back after the break? Is that the end of Drew?
3. How long is the leash?
The trade deadline is less than three weeks away, and second base seems like a pretty obvious opportunity to upgrade. Ben Zobrist’s name comes up quite a bit in the rumor mill. Are the Yankees willing to commit to Refsnyder completely, even if he stumbles out of the gate, or would they go shopping if Refsnyder doesn’t hit the ground running? Even if Refsnyder does play well, would the Yankees trust that to be sustainable? In the past few years, we’ve actually seen Joe Girardi give some young players a chance. David Adams got legitimate playing time for several weeks. Yangervis Solarte was given the third base job with no big league experience. Francisco Cervelli was traded away so that John Ryan Murphy could be the backup catcher. Now that Refsnyder is “ready,” does that mean the second base job is absolutely his going forward?
4. Is this only the beginning of the next wave?
If you follow the minor league system and hope to see a fresh youth movement in the big leagues, the idea of Refsnyder at second base is only the beginning. Already this season, the Yankees have pushed Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird to Triple-A. They’ve called Bryan Mitchell up to the big leagues and given him a chance to stick in the bullpen. They gave Jacob Lindgren a call-up less than a year after he was drafted. They’ve given Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams and Ramon Flores some at-bats in the wake of the mid-May Jacoby Ellsbury injury. So as Refsnyder arrives, it’s hard not to think about what might be next. Are the Yankees really a transformed organization, finally with upper level talent capable of helping in the big leagues (with a manager and general manager willing to give them a real shot)?
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Postgame notes: “We want to see him play” • 07.10.15
The Yankees have either lost patience with Stephen Drew, or simply stopped wasting time with Rob Refsnyder.
After finishing off tonight’s win in Boston, Joe Girardi confirmed that Refsnyder will be called up and in the lineup tomorrow. He’ll play second base these last two games before the break.
“We want to see him play,” Girardi said.
Reports on Refsnyder’s defense?
“That he’s improved,” Girardi said. “We’ve heard that he’s improved and that he’s making strides and we’re going to find out.”
Just a two-day trial because the Red Sox are pitching a couple of lefties?
“That’s not our thinking,” Girardi said. “We knew we were facing a couple of lefties and figured we would do it now.”
Girardi did not fully commit to Refsnyder remaining with the Yankees beyond the All-Star break, but it certainly seems that’s the intention. Asked if Refsnyder would stick around these two games, Girardi initially said “yeah” before backing off and saying he’s not thinking beyond this weekend. Whether he said it or not, it’s clear the Yankees believe Refsnyder can be a significant piece of the roster, and it’s hard to imagine they’d bring up such a touted prospect for just two days or to play a limited role.
“He played well in spring training,” Girardi said. “It’s a young man that’s been on our radar, and we’ll see how he does.”
Refsnyder’s been red-hot lately — hitting .412 with two home runs in his past 10 games — and Drew remains a .182 hitter with the lowest batting average of any lineup regular in the majors. He has hit 12 home runs, the Yankees like his defense, and he has the fourth-most walks on the team. He’s been productive occasionally, but he’s also made a lot of outs along the way.
After tonight’s game, Girardi let Drew know about the Refsnyder call-up so that he wouldn’t be blindsided by questions.
“Hopefully, we’re here to win,” Drew said. “Whatever’s going to help us win, that’s what we’re going to do. So hopefully, he’ll come up, and I know how it is when you first get called up. It’s going to be fun for him, and hopefully in his first at-bat or whatnot, he can get a hit and add that first one. I remember mine. It took me nine at-bats. So hopefully he’ll adjust soon. I think he’s good. I saw him in spring training, he’s a great player and a good hitter, so looking forward to him being here with us.”
• Refsnyder will be the story of the day on Saturday. Tonight it was Michael Pineda, who delivered 6.2 strong innings for his ninth win of the season. “I’m very happy tonight,” Pineda said. “The last three years, I don’t take a (All-Star) break because I have injury. Tonight, I’m very happy with my last start in the first half. I’ll take my break. I’m very happy.”
• In his past three starts, Pineda has a 1.25 ERA with 24 strikeouts and one walk. “Just his consistency (stands out),” Girardi said. “How deep he’s going into games for us. The effectiveness of his slider. He continues to pound the zone. He’s pitching.”
• The Yankees have won 11 of Pineda’s 17 starts this season.
• Why take Pineda out after a manageable 89 pitches? “Betts had hit a home run,” Girardi said. “The time he’d seen him before, he’d hit him hard before too. So I just thought his slider was getting a little flat, and I just said, I’m going to make a change.”
• As for using Andrew Miller in a non-save situation, Girardi said he wanted to use Miller twice this series, but also didn’t want to use him back-to-back games before the All-Star break. That meant ideally using him tonight and Sunday. “We’re trying to get (the rust) off,” Girardi said. “Our plan is to use him two days here. I don’t know if I’ll use him tomorrow, but coming in we had thought that we probably wouldn’t use him back-to-back until we got back from the break. And if one guy gets on, you’re probably not going to mess around anyway.”
• Alex Rodriguez gave the Yankees an early lead with his first-inning home run. It was his 17th of the year, and the 26th of his career at Fenway, the most of all active visiting players. He is a career .448 hitter against Clay Buchholz. “Sometimes numbers can be deceiving,” Girardi said. “I can’t say I felt all that well up there. The key with Clay is to get a good pitch to hit. He has a number of ways of getting you out. … I just got a good pitch to hit and hit it well.”
• Buchholz left in the fourth inning because of tightness in his elbow. It felt like a bit of luck for the Yankees, because Buchholz has been pitching well lately. “But you’re not really setup for that with all the lefties they’ve got down there (in the bullpen),” Girardi said. “With all the leftes we have in the lineup you’re thinking, boy, this might work out to their advantage in a sense. Not taking anything away from Buchholz, but you can’t make moves too early when you’ve only got three guys on your bench. We took advantage of a couple mistakes.”
• Brett Gardner has a seven-game road hitting streak and has a hit in 10 consecutive games against the Red Sox. … Jacoby Ellsbury has hit safely in all three games since coming off the disabled list. … Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have now combined to strike out 121 of 288 batters faced this season.
• A foul line drive by Didi Gregorius struck a fan — she looked to be a fairly young woman, maybe even a young girl — and it was a pretty scary moment, with fans using their shirts to stop the bleeding. She was hit in the head. “There’s nothing I could do about it,” Gregorius said. “So I finished my at-bat, handed them my bat and obviously they said thank you and everything. There’s nothing else I can do right there. It’s always a little worry; obviously those fans have got to pay attention because there’s no screen over there. Every ballpark has their own way.”
• Final word goes to Rodriguez: “This group has a good feel to it. It’s a hardworking group, and it competes hard every night. I think the key for us finishing the first half and continuing strong in the second half, is to stay hungry and humble.”
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