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Archive for July, 2015

How to Keep Refsnyder

Yankee fans have been calling for – and praying, hoping, and wishing for – Rob Refsnyder to be called up to the Major League. Friday night, we heard he would be playing – and starting – on Saturday and Sunday in Boston. After two starts in the newly dawning Rob Refsnyder era, are Yankee fans satisfied?

In this very small sample size, Yankee fans have been (seemingly) pleased, at least as far as I can tell. Sunday’s game was particularly exciting for fans who saw not only Refsnyder’s first major league hit (a single to right field), but also his first major league home run. The home run was not only a beautiful two-run shot over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, but ultimately won the game for the Yankees with a final score 8-6.

Going into the All Star break, we’re riding a wave of Rob Refsnyder excitement – so much so, that many fans are declaring Stephen Drew’s days in pinstripes are over, or at very least numbered. I hope to see Yankee prospects be promoted and succeed just as much as anyone else, but in Refsnyder’s case, we can’t get too excited too quickly. He has been in the major leagues for two days – and is 24 year old converted outfielder who’s offense has been his weakness. As is the case with any rookie, he will struggle – and it’s important for fans not to give up on Refsnyder the moment he becomes the least bit shaky (as so many did with Didi Gregorius).

Assuming Ref plays well enough the Yankees just can’t demote him, what happens then? How do we keep him on the roster, and who is there if/when he does struggle?

As the roster is right now, the backup option would obviously be Stephen Drew. His bat has obviously been awful, but he has shown he’s capable of playing a decent second base. As I’ve said before, I have to give Drew credit for learning a new position late in his career, and especially for doing so successfully. But, shortly after the All Star break, the Yankees also have utility infielder Brendan Ryan returning from injury. Ignoring all other roster moves (Carlos Beltran will also be returning around the same time), this gives the Yankees three middle infielders for two roster spots.

The main battle will be for second base – Chase Headley is locked in at third base as Didi Gregorius is at shortstop. Let’s assume Refsnyder wins the second base job (since so many of us want him to anyway), and the Yankees are forced to chose between Drew and Ryan. My vote for backup infielder has to go to Stephen Drew.

As is often the case, money comes first. Ryan signed a contract for 2 years $4 million (2014-2015) while Drew signed this off season for 1 year $5 million (2015). Ryan is less expensive, but the Yankees would be more willing to drop a $2-2.5 contract than a $5+ contract.

In offensive and defensive categories, Stephen Drew beats Brendan Ryan in career batting average, and in fielding percentage at second base, shortstop, and even third base.

Career Batting:  .234 Ryan   .252 Drew
2B Fielding %:   .977             .982
SS Fielding %:   .978             .979
3B Fielding %:   .942            1.000
*Drew played only 13 innings at 3B
** Ryan has also played 1B and OF positions

That isn’t to say Brendan Ryan doesn’t have value as a utility infielder – his numbers really aren’t awful and there’s something to be said for a player who can fill in at so many different positions. He does have a big problem staying healthy, and has already had multiple trips to the DL this season already. It seems likely that as he ages, his trips to the DL will only increase.

Earlier this season, Joe Girardi more or less declared that Stephen Drew would be the backup at third base if Chase Headley was unable to play or needed a day off. At the time, the focus was more about what that meant for Alex Rodriguez – that Girardi was essentially saying he would not use him in the field (a choice that has been beneficial for both Rodriguez and the Yankees so far). But the peculiar thing about Girardi using Drew as the backup third baseman is that he already was – and until Refsnyder or anyone else definitively proves otherwise – the every day starting second baseman.

Jose Pirela is a possible substitute at second or third – if he hadn’t been sent back to Scranton late last week. Gregorio Petit is also a possibility, although his performance has been underwhelming at best. He was also signed in an emergency backup one of the times Brendan Ryan was put on the DL earlier this season. Assuming there will soon be an overabundance of middle infielders on the Yankees roster, there really is no need for Petit. If the Yankees are set on keeping him, they could send him back to Scranton – but they could also just as easily cut their ties to him completely.

With Pirela already sent to Scranton, and Petit and Ryan removed from the roster (by trades or any other means), that leaves Stephen Drew as the utility infielder for the Yankees. I am confident he can play shortstop, second base, and now third base in an emergency (although, I wouldn’t mind if he had a few more innings of work at third before giving a full vote of confidence).

Girardi said Drew would be Headley’s backup, which leaves second base open and Refsnyder recently added to the roster… (For what it’s worth, Girardi also spoke to Drew privately about Refsnyder before the call up was announced.) Perhaps Girardi was foreshadowing a move he knew was coming, or maybe it’s all just a wild coincidence. Either way, Rob Refsnyder made an impression in two short days, and will definitely make this an interesting All Star break for the Yankees front office.

The All Star Game Identity Crisis

When you really think about it, the MLB All Star game has gotten complicated – and a little confusing.

In some ways, the game and the festivities (such as the Home Run Derby) are a lot of fun. I always think of Ken Griffey, Jr. in the Home Run Derby, standing in the batter’s box with his hat on backward, while the other all stars sit on the foul territory grass (often with their children) and watch. Or Cal Ripken’s last ASG when Alex Rodriguez made him move over and play shortstop one last time.

But in an attempt to build excitement around the game (and hopefully recruit more fans), things have become a little more serious. The game actually counts for something (the winning league earns home field advantage in the World Series). The fans, players, and managers all choose the all stars. There are scheduled releases for vote totals and hour long shows dedicated to announcing the all star reserves.

So which is more true?

Quite honestly, I think the All Star Game is having an identity crisis. I don’t know whether this game is meant to be a fun break or another important game in an already long season?

If it were up to me, I would make the entire All Star break fun – for the players, the fans, and even the coaches/managers. Yes, baseball is a business and it is the job of all the players (even if they’re being paid ridiculously well) to play 160+ games a season. But remember, baseball is a long, difficult season – there are few true days off during the season (some are travel days) and most, if not all, of the all star position players are playing nearly every game during the season. And long before they were ever professionals, they were fans too. Let it just be fun.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. There’s a lot that goes into the ASG to take into consideration.

First – the where. As is typically the custom, alternate between American League and National League host cities. There is really no need to have a league host back-to-back seasons. At times, the ASG is more than just a game, but recognition of a new park, or an anniversary at an existing park – these things don’t sneak up on you. New stadiums aren’t constructed overnight and special anniversaries don’t happen in unusual years. Plan ahead!

Next – the who. In my opinion, it’s absolutely fitting the managers of the World Series teams are the managers for the ASG (even if they are no longer with that team). They will likely chose a coaching staff from their own team, and that’s also okay. Without managers & coaches, the team wouldn’t make it to the World Series. If that manager and coaching staff was successful enough to lead a team through the post season, it makes sense they might be successful in the ASG too.

I’m a big supporter of fans choosing the starting position players. We all think we would be a better manager/GM than our team’s, so why not let us has this small taste of it? If MLB is so set on players choosing other players, they should be able to chose the pitchers: they know better than anyone who is the most difficult to hit. Fans could, however, help chose the starting pitcher. Of course there will be limitations on who can pitch depending on when they last threw, but if it’s narrowed down to a few potential starters, let fans vote. We already think we know better than the managers do anyway. The managers should still be allowed to chose the reserve players. And…get rid of the final vote! It’s just annoying. How would you like to be the guy who got picked last? And half the fans can’t figure out how and when to vote – hashtags mean nothing until Friday, people!!

That being said, fans and managers will have a tendency to vote for their favorite teams’ players – which is not wrong, but it’s not always right. Fans, when you vote…use your head. There is always that one guy on your team who is not as good as the others – so don’t vote for him! Just because he wears the same jersey doesn’t mean he’s the best at the position. I didn’t vote for Stephen Drew, and the millions of Royals fans who appeared out of seemingly nowhere should not have voted for Omar Infante!

The game – the big what. As I said before, just let it be fun. Give the millionaire baseball players one game to just go out and have fun. Once upon a time they were all little boys playing for fun – it just happened they were all insanely talented and it became their jobs. One game out of 160 (give or take) without any pressure is really not so bad. Let them enjoy the experience of playing with and being among the best of the best in Major League Baseball, even if the final score is 17-14 or something equally as ridiculous.

Do not make the game count for anything other than bragging rights. While it certainly adds drama and makes things more interesting, awarding home field advantage to the winning league will not always be the fair and right thing to do. Imagine a scenario where a team has the best record in baseball – no one else is even close – and they go to the World Series, but the other team – a Wild Card team that barely made it into the playoffs at all – has home field advantage. It would only be worse if one (or even both) of the team’s players had little or no involvement in the ASG – but rather the World Series is dependent on one game in July that had nothing to do with them. Of course, this would be rare, but I can’t imagine many fans of the first place team being pleased if it happened just once.

Personally, the All Star Game has a special significance for me because it was (in 1997) the first baseball game I watched – by choice – start to finish. Admittedly, it’s because they were playing in my home city (Cleveland), but I remember it being such a fun game to watch. Each year year during the ASG, I think of that game and count how many years it’s been since I started watching baseball. It’s a great way to see a mix of the best players in each league having fun, playing with some new (or old) friends for one game only.

If you’re curious who my All Star votes went to – since I asked fans to use their heads – here they are (I only voted for AL; I don’t know NL well enough):

C – Brian McCann, NYY
1B – Mark Teixeira, NYY
2B – Jose Altuve, HOU
SS – JJ Hardy, BAL
3B – Manny Machado, BAL
OF – Brett Gardner, NYY
OF – Adam Jones, BAL
OF – Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY
DH – Alex Rodriguez, NYY

As an intelligent (I hope) baseball fan, I have no complaints about the players chosen as starters or as reserves. Even if they weren’t my first choice or not on my favorite team, I can recognize good baseball talent, and the AL has a lot of great players on that team.

No matter what the circumstances of the ASG are, I’ll still watch the game and be cheering for all the American League players…because I voted for some of them, and because I don’t understand the National League. (Who are half these guys? Do the pitchers really like hitting?)

Happy (almost) All Star break, everyone!…and go American League!!