Maybe the Refsnyder Demotion Makes Sense

I’m disappointed in the Rob Refsnyder demotion too. Like seemingly every commenter and writer on this site, I think Refsnyder earned a shot at the full-time 2B gig: (1) he hit like mad at AAA; (2) he improved his defense at AAA, looking highly error-prone in April but not in the months since; and (3) he’s as non-blocked as a prospect could be, because Ref could exceed the sub-replacement performance of Stephen Drew or Brendan Ryan with even a modest outcome, maybe as a 1 WAR/yr Reverse-Didi (Gregorious combines average-plus D with subpar hitting for a 1 WAR/yr pace, while Ref could offer average-plus hitting with subpar D for similar net value). But while I’m disappointed, I’m not ready to go as far as the commenters calling the demotion “inexcusable idiocy,” “STUPID,” or “DUMB!!!” I can see some possible logic for the demotion

Possibility #1: They know Refsnyder isn’t as good as we think.

Early in 2014, I was annoyed the Yankees moved John Ryan Murphy ahead of Austin Romine on the food chain, letting Murphy second-string in the bigs and leaving Romine in Scranton. Romine’s 2013 line was ugly but showed improvement, a .390 first-half OPS followed by .750 in the second half – in a small sample size of 148 PA, but in 46 more PA at AAA, he slugged .333/.391/.405. In contrast, Murphy’s AA/AAA 2013 line was .269/.347/.426, which struck me as ok, but not worth letting him leapfrog Romine, who deserved a chance to show his small-not-tiny sample size of strong 2013 performance was for real. I may even have posted a blog comment that the team was being "DUMB!!!"

Turns out the team was right: in both 2014 and 2015, Murphy has far outperformed Romine. So while we can stare at stats all day, sometimes the team’s preference for player A over player B really is based on better first-hand appraisal of its players.

Or take Ref in particular: this past offseason, I banged the drum hard to give Ref the 2B job; but Ref made 6 errors in 23 games in spring training, then 7 in 20 games in April in Scranton. Cashman was right not to give Ref the job like I'd hoped, because (a) booting that many could have cost the Yankees a few games, and (b) Ref's error-prone ways ended by May in Scranton, but might have persisted if he'd been stinking under big-league pressure rather than in AAA.

Refsnyder’s AA and AAA numbers say he should be a solid big-league hitter, but can we really say that because we know just that he had few errors after an error-filled April, he’s really ready to for big-league 2B? I’m not sure, and I’m willing to defer to the team a bit here.

If this is the explanation, then our disappointment is still legit – it’s just it isn’t disappointment (A) that the team is too “dumb” or “stupid” to notice the limitations of Drew or Ryan; instead, it's disappointment (A) that the folks who see him every day have concluded that Ref is still bad in the field, or (B) that his defense is only mildly subpar while his hitting projects to be just ok rather than good enough to make up for the defense -- after all, the risky OF-to-2B experiment started because Ref's bat, though solid, wasn't deemed outfielder-quality.

Possibility #2: He’s improving on defense but isn’t quite there yet.

This overlaps with possibility #1; Ref has had only about two seasons’ worth of 2B, so it’s completely plausible he remains a work in progress there. His April was so error-prone that just over two good months since then may not be enough indication he’s improved. Couldn’t he improve playing in the Bronx just like he could in Scranton? Sure, and so could Severino and any number of guys doing well at AAA, but (a) the bigs are a stressful place for on-the-job learning, and (b) the stakes are higher, making learning tougher.

Earlier this year, the Rockies sent down top pitching prospect Eddie Butler to work on his changeup, after Butler logged a 4.80 ERA that, in Coors Field, actually wasn’t awful (92 ERA+). The Rockies didn’t really have anyone better to start – three of their other starters had ERAs of 4.88, 5.14, and 5.94 – but Butler could work to improve a weak secondary pitch, without fear of the consequences, in AAA more easily than in the bigs. Maybe that’s the logic with Ref here: one purpose of teams having minor-league affiliates is to offer lower-stress places to improve your weak points in low-stakes games, rather than just pregame drills.

Our big concern about demoting Ref, of course, is, "there they go again." Like a lot of fans, I have borderline-PTSD about trading budding star Jay Buhner for near-the-end platoon slugger Ken Phelps, and other similar decisions not to give a promising kid a real chance. Like the immortal Sterling Hitchcock said, "you hear a lot about our young guys, but then there’s no slot for us … As far as I can remember, it’s been give a guy six-seven starts, and if he doesn’t do anything, then get him out of here and bring in Dave LaPoint." Impatience with prospects is a bad trait of big-money and contending teams, and the Yankees have often been the worst offenders. But the need to develop talent doesn't mean all prospects deserve promotion: Ref ain't Jay Buhner, who was traded right after hitting 39 HR in barely a season of AAA; and sometimes, you run with a veteran mediocrity until the prospect is really ready -- which easily could be what's gong on here.

Possibility #3: He’ll be back in ten days.

We don’t know whether Cashman will trade for a 2B, a OF/1B (maybe to replace Garrett Jones), or an SP – and Cashman doesn’t yet know either. Which sort of upgrade he lands, if any, determines whether they should dump an OF (Jones?), a middle-infielder (Ryan), or someone else. But to keep Refsnyder up now, they would have to make the dump-Jones-or-Ryan decision now. So I’m inclined to take Cashman at his word that he may well just be thinking that he wants to put off the dump-whom decision until seeing what moves he can make by the July 31 deadline.

Possibility #4: Ryan looked great in rehab, while Drew just figured out what's been wrong with his swing for the past year, so each is poised for a breakout second half.

Just kidding.