A fifth bench player, not an eighth reliever, may be best use of the extra roster spot until the fifth starter is needed

So many pitching changes. (Presswire)
So many pitching changes. (Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees failed to pick up a win on a first day of the season this year. Yesterday’s loss to the Rays was not only their sixth straight Opening Day loss, it was their eighth loss in the last nine Opening Days. Yikes. Good thing it’s just another game, eh? The Yankees have not won on Opening Day since beating the Tigers back in 2011. Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano set up Mariano Rivera for the save that day.

The Yankees used four relievers in yesterday’s game, leaving four others in the bullpen unused even though Masahiro Tanaka didn’t make it out of the third inning. Today is an off-day, so those guys will get a day to rest before going back to the park for Game Two tomorrow night. They’ll be fresh, if nothing else, and they figure to be very fresh for the first few weeks of the season. The Yankees have three off-days within the first ten days of the season, which they’re using to skip the fifth starter’s spot twice. Smart move.

Rather than carry a fifth starter, the Yankees have opted to carry eight relievers to start the season, which in no way surprises me. They seem to carry an extra reliever whenever they get a chance. Like every other team, the Yankees are terrified of overworking guys early in the season and running out of pitchers in extra innings. I get it. I do. I also think the eighth reliever is wasted roster spot because those scheduled off-days ensure the bullpen won’t be overworked early.

Keep in mind what happened last year. An Opening Day rainout meant the Yankees couldn’t skip their fifth starter, but they still had three off-days within the first 14 days of the season. Because of that, last guy in the bullpen Luis Cessa made just one appearance in the first eleven days of the season. The Yankees eventually decided to send him down to Triple-A Scranton because sitting unused in the big league bullpen was doing him no good.

This year the Yankees have an extra reliever and three off-days within the first ten days of the season, not the first 14 days like last year. More relievers, more off-days early. It sure seems like we’re heading for a “this reliever(s) has to get in a game soon because he needs the work” situation next week, doesn’t it? Joe Girardi is going to lean on his top relievers early thanks to those off-days — which he absolutely should do! — meaning the other relievers will be left idle.

Perhaps the Yankees will run into some extra innings games or get a few more short starts these next two weeks and need the extra relievers. That’s what they’re worried about, right? But, keep in mind both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell were stretched out to start during Spring Training, so they can give the Yankees some serious distance these next few weeks. And the Yankees aren’t shy about shuttling relievers in and out either.

Anyway, my point is there may be a better way to use the roster spot vacated by the fifth starter, who won’t be needed until April 16th. The Yankees could carry a fifth bench player instead, which would allow Girardi to do two things a little more often:

  1. Pinch-run in the late innings. The Yankees are getting younger but they’re still on the slow side. If they’re down a run or two in the ninth inning and either Gary Sanchez or Greg Bird reaches base, pinch-running would be a wise move. Right now Aaron Hicks, the only backup outfielder on the roster, is the best pinch-runner option.
  2. Pinch-hit for Torreyes. Inevitably, some big moments are going to find Ronald Torreyes, the fill-in shortstop while Didi Gregorius is sidelined. It happened yesterday and Girardi went to Hicks to pinch-hit against a righty. Chris Carter is available to pinch-hit against a lefty. Pete Kozma then has to take over at short, so they’re burning two players in one move.

The Yankees almost ran out of bench players yesterday. Hicks pinch-hit for Torreyes in the seventh inning, Kozma took over at shortstop, then Carter pinch-hit for Kozma in the ninth. The Yankees were going to be short a middle infielder had they tied the game. Bird told Anthony Rieber he volunteered to play third so Chase Headley could play second, allowing Starlin Castro to slide to short. Austin Romine at second was another option. No. Just … no. Playing dudes out of position on Opening Day would not be fun.

As with the eighth reliever, how often would this fifth bench player be used? That’s the question and the answer could very well be never. Maybe the Yankees keep socking dingers like they did in Spring Training and won’t need pinch-runners, and Torreyes goes all BABIP crazy for a few weeks and there’s no reason to pinch-hit for him. Baseball can be weird like that.

There’s also this: who would be the fifth bench player? Rob Refsnyder is at the front of the call-up line, and he would give the Yankees an extra middle infielder given his ability to play second base. That said, if you’re going to lift anyone for a right-handed pinch-hitter, Carter will get the nod before Refsnyder because that dude hits fungo bat pop-ups that carry over the fence.

The only left-handed hitter on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues is Mason Williams, and while he’s not someone Girardi figures to use as a pinch-hitter for Torreyes, Hicks sure is. He did it yesterday. Hicks hits for Torreyes, Kozma takes over at short, and the Yankees would still have a capable outfielder on the bench in Williams should, say, Carter pinch-hit for Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury against a lefty the next inning. That’s not really doable right now.

Either way, eighth reliever or fifth bench player, we are talking about literally the 25th player on the 25-man roster. No team uses the last player on the roster all that often. It just seems like, with all those early season off-days, carrying an extra reliever is a waste. Heck, the Yankees might be able to get away with only six relievers thanks to those off-days. Instead, they’re carrying eight. The extra bench player could be the better use of that roster spot, even if he only plays two or three times before the Yankees need a fifth starter.

Rob Refsnyder Optioned to Triple-A

(Charles Wenzelberg)
(Charles Wenzelberg)

Earlier today, the Yankees announced that Rob Refsnyder had been optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 26-year-old was batting just .209/.314/.349 in 43 at-bats, and was openly put on the trading block three weeks ago. There was some talk that he could have a shot at heading north in a bench role on the heels of the Didi Gregorius injury, but his inability to play shortstop made that a long shot, and his punchless Spring did little to force the team’s hand.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Refsnyder going forward. The Yankees may be looking to clear a 40-man roster spot, and at least one team – the Rays – was interested in Refsnyder’s services. I wouldn’t be shocked if a (tremendously underwhelming) trade was in the near future.

This move also means that Pete Kozma will be the team’s utility infielder to start the season, as confirmed by George A. King III. He’s a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) hitter that hasn’t played in the Majors since 2015, but he has a fine glove at shortstop (9.7 UZR/150 in 1399 innings at the position) and experience at second and third, to boot. Kozma is an unexciting player at best, though that is true of most utility infielders – and it’s doubtful that he sees all that much playing time, barring another injury, so it makes sense to use a fungible piece in this role.

Tyler Austin’s injury opens a door a bit for Rob Refsnyder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees suffered their first major injury of the year last week, when Tyler Austin fouled a pitch into his left foot during batting practice and suffered a fracture. He’ll be out at least six weeks. His chances of making the Opening Day roster weren’t great to begin with following the Chris Carter signing. Now Austin has no chance to break camp with the team.

The injury somewhat clarified the first base position battle, a position battle that includes both first base as well as one bench spot. Carter signed a guaranteed big league contract and was always going to be part of the Opening Day roster. Nothing changed there. Here’s the rest of the pecking order for this position battle:

  1. Greg Bird
  2. Tyler Austin
  3. Rob Refsnyder
  4. Ji-Man Choi

Austin was next in line behind Bird. That seemed pretty clear. Refsnyder figures to be ahead of Choi simply because he’s already on the 40-man roster, and also because he’s a little more versatile. Choi has outfield experience, though he really should be limited to first base only. You can stick Refsnyder in right and he won’t kill you defensively, plus he can handle second base in a pinch. That gives him an edge over Choi.

It’s no secret the Yankees want Bird to take that first base job and run with it. Carter gives the club a viable platoon partner for all those tough AL East lefties (Chris Sale, David Price, etc.) and also some insurance in case Bird does need more time to get his swing back. That insurance is already proving useful thanks to Austin’s injury. I told you these things have a way of working themselves out, right? Right.

Austin’s injury opens the door for Refsnyder a little bit. He’s now next in line for a call-up, whether that’s due to an injury early in the season or even on Opening Day should the Yankees not deem Bird big league ready. Austin was first in line for any roster opening. Now it’s Refsnyder, at least until Austin is healthy. (Mason Williams is out with an inflamed patella, which also works in Refsnyder’s favor.)

I don’t think Refsnyder’s chances of making the Opening Day roster are all that good, not unless there’s an injury, but now he could be the first call-up option when help is needed. Austin is going to miss at least six weeks, the Yankees say. It could be longer. And once he’s healthy, he’ll essentially have to go through Spring Training to get ready for the season. He won’t pick up a bat and be ready to go.

Six weeks from the time of the injury is basically Opening Day. The Yankees are fortunate it happened at the very start of camp and not near the end. Austin could be healthy come the start of the season, and then after a few weeks of minor league at-bats to get game ready, he’ll again be a big league option. With any luck, that will all happen in April. Until then, Refsnyder is Plan A among New York’s minor league depth players.

I’m not quite sure where Refsnyder fits in the big picture long-term, and it’s entirely possible he doesn’t fit anywhere. This is his final minor league option year, so keeping him as depth is a no-brainer. The Yankees will be able to send him up and down as many times as they want. He offers a little versatility and, if nothing else, will grind out an at-bat offensively. Refsnyder may not have an inside track on an Opening Day roster spot, but the Austin injury does improve his chances of seeing the Bronx early in the season.

Poll: Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder on the bench

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

When Spring Training opens in a little under the a month, the Yankees are going to have to sort out a few positions, and for once, it’s not because there’s a veteran guy in camp trying to make the team. The Yankees have several young players vying for two rotation spots, a bunch of bullpen spots, right field, and also first base. Brian Cashman insists right field and first base are wide open.

Of course, if you give Cashman a truth serum, he’d tell you he wants Greg Bird to take the first base job and run with it. Bird completed his shoulder surgery rehab and got some at-bats in the Arizona Fall League last year, but the Yankees know he might be all the way back to his 2015 form come Opening Day. A stint in Triple-A is entirely possible. Hopefully not, but if it’s necessary, what can you do?

Bird’s primary competition at first base is Tyler Austin, who reemerged as a prospect last season and made his big league debut in August. He did some cool things, like sock some clutch opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium, though he had his difficulties as well. Austin’s strikeout (40.0%) and contact (62.0%) rates weren’t much better than Aaron Judge‘s (44.2% and 59.7%), whom many seem to think will strike out his way to the prospect graveyard.

Also in the mix at first base will presumably be the recently signed Ji-Man Choi as well as Rob Refsnyder, who saw time at first last year. And the thing is, it’s entirely possible — if not likely — two of these players will make the Opening Day roster. Would a Bird-Austin platoon at first base surprise you? Not me. Same goes with Bird-Refsnyder. A Choi-Austin or Choi-Refsnyder platoon could happen too. (Austin-Refsnyder would be weird.)

Barring Spring Training injuries or surprises, the four-man bench going into the season figures to include a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Ronald Torreyes), and a backup infielder (Aaron Hicks). That assumes Hicks isn’t needed to play right field because Judge gets sent down to Triple-A. I feel like that would be the ideal bench, with the fourth spot still to be determined.

Bird winning the first base job would make carrying Choi on the bench sorta silly. I mean, yeah, Choi can play a little outfield, but not really. Carrying two left-handed hitting first baseman doesn’t make much sense. Austin or Refsnyder would be the best candidates for that fourth bench spot, especially with the Yankees trying to go young. What’s the advantage of carrying, say, Ruben Tejada over those guys? I don’t see one. Let’s make cases for Austin and Refsnyder on the bench, shall we?

The Case for Austin

In his limited big league time last year, Austin annihilated left-handers, hitting .348/.444/.652 (195 wRC+) against them even though three of his five homers came against righties. (Austin had a 62 wRC+ against righties). His split was far less pronounced in Triple-A: .365/.459/.698 against lefties and .304/.394/.609 against righties. Austin was a man among boys in Scranton. I’m not sure how useful his Triple-A splits are.

One thing we know for sure is Austin has more power than Refsnyder. A lot more. Refsnyder hit two home runs in 405 plate appearances last year. Two. Both in Triple-A. Austin hit five homers with the Yankees on top of the 17 he hit in the minors. He hit nearly as many homers in 2016 (22) as Refsnyder hit from 2014-16 (27). Austin’s right field pop is a fun fit for Yankee Stadium. He’ll unquestionably give New York more thump.

Defensively, Austin is limited to first base and the two corner outfield spots. He has minor league experience at third base (35 total games), but he’s not good there, so I wouldn’t consider him anything more than an emergency option at the hot corner. Furthermore, Austin is not a good defensive outfielder. We saw him take some weird routes and pull up short of the wall a few times last year. At first base he was fine enough. Not great, not terrible.

Austin has long been a bat-first player, which is why his prospect stock took a big hit when he didn’t do much at the plate from 2014-15. Put him on the bench, and Joe Girardi can use him as a platoon option at first as well as occasionally in the outfield and at DH. He gives them some legitimate power to use against all those AL East southpaws (Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Blake Snell, Wade Miley).

The Case for Refsnyder

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

For long stretches of time last season Girardi used Refsnyder as a platoon bat against righties, often batting him second in the lineup. Refsnyder responded with a .274/.370/.355 (94 wRC+) batting line against southpaws, which, while short on power, is nice from an on-base point of view. Not making outs is cool. Austin has the advantage in power while Refsnyder boasts the better plate discipline numbers:

  • Austin in 2016: 40.0 K% and 7.8 BB% in MLB (25.2 K% and 13.7 BB% in Triple-A)
  • Refsnyder in 2016: 17.1 K% and 10.3 BB% in MLB (13.0 K% and 7.4 BB% in Triple-A)

One thing we saw out of Refsnyder last year — and even the year before, really — was consistently quality at-bats. He didn’t jump out of his shoes flailing at pitches out of the zone and he wasn’t afraid to hit with two strikes. The results weren’t always there, but have quality at-bats and the results will come eventually. Hopefully. Anyway, Austin has more swing and miss in his game.

Refsnyder’s lack of defense makes him a bat-first player as well, though based on what I saw last year, which admittedly isn’t much, Refsnyder is much more refined in the outfield than Austin. He won’t win Gold Gloves or anything, but he takes good routes and seems to be in control out there. Austin was a bit more … chaotic. Also, we know Refsnyder can play second if necessary, and last year the Yankees had him learn first and third base. As with Austin though, third seems like an emergency only option.

With Refsnyder on the bench, Girardi could continue using him as a platoon bat who will make a pitcher work, though he doesn’t figure to hit for much power. Right field is probably his best defensive position, but he can also play first and second bases if necessary, so there’s another layer of versatility there. Neither guy will set land speed records, so baserunning isn’t a tiebreaker.

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Ultimately, this comes down to Austin’s power against Refsnyder’s contact skills and ability to play second base. Being able to play second is not nothing. With Torreyes and Austin on the bench, the Yankees can only rest one regular non-first base infielder at a time. With Torreyes and Refsnyder, Girardi will be able to rest two at the same time. At the end of a blowout or whatever.

In all likelihood both Austin and Refsnyder are going to spend time in the fourth bench spot next season. They both have minor league options remaining, and depending on the team’s needs at the time, they might find themselves going up and down. And you know what else? When injury strikes — and it inevitably will — chances are both will be on the roster at the same time. Baseball has a way of making these situations go away. Anyway, this question is ripe for a poll, so let’s get to it.

Who should get the final bench spot?
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Clearing a roster spot for Teixeira may not be as much of a no-brainer as it seems

2009 Yankees reunion in Scranton yesterday. (NY Daily News)
2009 Yankees reunion in Scranton yesterday. (NY Daily News)

Last night Mark Teixeira played his first minor league rehab game with Triple-A Scranton, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a sac fly. The results don’t really matter. Teixeira hasn’t faced live pitching in a few weeks and he is just trying to get his bearings at the plate. As long as the knee held up, it was a productive rehab game.

“You want to get as many at-bats as possible down here,” said Teixeira to Shane Hennigan. “Like I said, you’re going to make adjustments two-and-a-half weeks from the long layoff and my first three at-bats, I was definitely out front. So getting that fourth at-bat and having a really good swing was important.”

The plan is for Teixeira to DH today and then play a full nine innings at first base tomorrow. (He played six innings yesterday.) Assuming that goes well, he’ll take Friday off and rejoin the Yankees on Saturday. Considering there was talk about season-ending surgery not too long ago, coming back that quickly would be pretty impressive.

The Yankees will have to clear a roster spot for Teixeira whenever it returns, be it Saturday or next week or next month. All the discussion the last few days has involved Rob Refsnyder or Ike Davis for pretty obvious reasons. They’ve been playing first base while Teixeira is on the shelf and one figures to go when he returns.

Picking between Refsnyder and Davis is a no-brainer. The Yankees should keep Refsnyder and continue to find ways to get him into the lineup. Davis was brought in only because the team lost their top four first base options to injury. Refsnyder has played fairly well and might actually have a future with the Yankees. We already know Davis won’t.

There is a third way to clear a roster spot for Teixeira that hasn’t been discussed: sending out Ronald Torreyes. I wouldn’t blame you if you had forgotten he’s on the roster. He’s appeared in one of the team’s last eleven games and only three of their last 18 games. Two of those three appearances were one-inning stints in the field at the end of blowouts.

Torreyes has been a perfectly cromulent backup infielder this season even though he has cooled down since that insane start. He hasn’t played much lately because Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley have been two of the team’s better hitters over the last month or so, so it’s tough to take them out of the lineup. Refsnyder has filled in at second whenever Starlin Castro has sat too.

The Yankees recently used Castro at shortstop when they wanted to give Gregorius a day off, so clearly they’re willing to play him there. Refsnyder would back up second and third bases when Torreyes goes down, and Castro would fill-in at short. An ideal situation? No, but might be the best roster setup at this point in time. Sending Torreyes down accomplishes three things:

  1. Keep Refsnyder around. Refsnyder has played well in his limited time and he’s done the job at first base well enough, even though his inexperience has cost the Yankees at times. I’ve said this a million times already, but it’s time to find out what he can at the MLB level. Sending Refsnyder down to Triple-A is a waste of time.
  2. Keep Davis around. I know keeping Davis sounds silly, but the Yankees are short on healthy first basemen at the moment. There’s no guarantee Teixeira will stay healthy once he returns, so it would be nice to keep Davis around as depth is possible. Sending Torreyes down buys the team time before cutting loose a first base option.
  3. Let Torreyes play. It’s damn near impossible for any player to remain productive given as little playing time as Torreyes has received recently, not that anyone is expecting him to provide a big offensive boost off the bench. Sending him to Triple-A gives him a chance to get some at-bats and get back into game shape, so to speak.

The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow and then play 17 games in 17 days leading up to the All-Star break, meaning Refsnyder will probably have to make a start at third base at some point, something he’s yet to do at the big league level. Carrying two true first basemen like Teixeira and Davis is not great, but the Yankees could ride it out until the All-Star break, then cut ties with Davis should Teixeira show he’s healthy.

Remember, Chris Parmelee is on his way back. He’s due to begin baseball activities soon — “If I was guessing, the end of the week or the beginning of next week,” he said to George King — and once he returns, Parmelee should replace Davis on the roster. He’d give the Yankees a little more flexibility because he can play the outfield if needed in addition to backing up first base.

Ike. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Ike. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

If the Yankees decide to drop Davis when Teixeira returns Saturday, so be it. No one is going to lose sleep. I just think with Teixeira’s knee such an unknown — he has torn cartilage and is going to try to play through the pain, it’s not like the cartilage will heal — the Yankees may want to hold onto Davis a wee bit longer just to make sure they’re covered. At least until Parmelee returns.

Davis does have minor league options remaining, but he also has more than five years of service time, so he can refuse a trip to the minors. Maybe the Yankees could convince him to accept a Triple-A assignment and make this easy. The sell job would be something like “Teixeira’s knee is still a mess so there’s a chance we’re going to need you, and if you don’t accept the assignment, we’re going to have to release you, and no other team is looking for a first baseman right now.” Convincing? Maybe!

If Davis won’t accept a trip to Triple-A, which is his right, the Yankees might be best off sending Torreyes out until Parmelee returns just to make sure they have enough first base depth in case Teixeira’s knee gives out again. No one will miss Davis when he does go, but the Yankees still need to think big picture here. They need to make sure they’re covered at first after losing so many players to injury, and that complicates the roster decision a bit.

Ackley’s injury makes first base even more of a problem area for the Yankees

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Last season the Yankees were able to qualify for the postseason largely due to the tremendous production they received from their first basemen. Led primary by Mark Teixeira and Greg Bird, New York’s first sackers hit .248/.336/.516 (114 OPS+) with 43 homers. Only the Orioles got more dingers from their first basemen (44) thanks mostly to Chris Davis.

So far this season the lack of production from first base is a huge reason why the Yankees have been unable to keep their head above .500. Teixeira is hitting .195/.291/.286 (62 wRC+) with three homers and Dustin Ackley, his primary backup, owns a .143/.248/.143 (11 wRC+) line. All together, New York’s first basemen are hitting .168/.261/.246 (36 OPS+) with three homers this season. They rank dead last in homers and OPS+ at the position.

Teixeira returned to the starting lineup last night after missing five games with a nagging neck issue that also kept him on the bench for a few games last month. During Teixeira’s absence Ackley managed to suffer what is likely a season-ending injury when he dove back into first base on a pickoff throw and tore his labrum. Ouch. The team’s backup first baseman for the time being is backup catcher Austin Romine, and that is hardly ideal.

As we’ve learned in recent years, replacing a backup first baseman ain’t all that easy. The days of carrying a pure backup first baseman are over. James Loney? He made no sense. He provides no power, no speed, no versatility, and these days iffy defense as well. Either the primary first baseman or the backup first baseman has to be able to play somewhere else in the world of four (and sometimes three) man benches, and since Teixeira can’t, the backup has to for the Yankees.

Ackley wasn’t hitting at all. That doesn’t mean replacing him on the roster will be easy. The Yankees need to come up with a backup first baseman who can handle another position or two and hopefully be more than a zero at the plate. What option do they have at this point of the season? A few and none are great. Let’s look.

Stick With Romine

First base is obviously not Romine’s primary position, but it’s not completely foreign to him either. He started ten games at first base in Triple-A last year once Gary Sanchez was promoted, for example. All told Romine has 206 career regular season innings at first between MLB and the minors, plus whatever he did in Spring Training, which is better than nothing.

Using your backup catcher as your backup first baseman really limits flexibility though. You can’t pinch-hit or pinch-run for either when they both start the same game because that means someone has to play out of position at first. Well, I mean you could pinch-hit or pinch-run, but most managers won’t. They seem to be collectively terrified of not having a second catcher available in case of injury. Romine as the backup first baseman figures to be a temporary measure.

Torreyes Or Headley?

Ronald Torreyes has never played first base as a professional, so forget about him. He might be too short for the position too. I’m being serious! The guy is about 5-foot-8, so he doesn’t present much of a target over there. Chase Headley‘s played some first base in his career but not much (58 innings). His best position is third base. “I think I would be more inclined to put Headley at first and Torreyes at third,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. It doesn’t seem like Headley (or Brian McCann, for that matter) is much of a consideration at first, which is the right move in my opinion. He’s an emergency option only.

What About Refsnyder?

It would behoove Rob Refsnyder to pick up a first baseman’s mitt and start working out at the position. Take grounders, start to learn the footwork, that sort of thing. Refsnyder has to give the Yankees a reason to keep him on the roster and learning first base would be a big help. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but if he wants to make himself as valuable as possible, trying to become a viable option at first would go a long way. Unless the Yankees explicitly tell Refsnyder to not work out at first — Girardi said he’s thought about, but the team hasn’t talked about it yet — he should put in some extra work there. That’s his best way to stay on the roster, and he just might be the team’s best option at the position.

(Photo via @swbrailriders)
(Photo via Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders)

Swisher Or Parmelee?

Bird had his shoulder surgery in early-February, which didn’t give the Yankees a whole lot of time to find a replacement depth option. The timing really sucked. First the team picked up Chris Parmelee as a minor league free agent, then, a few weeks later, they added Nick Swisher after the Braves cut him loose. Here are their Triple-A numbers to date:

Swisher: .244/.263/.366 (77 wRC+) with four homers in 137 plate appearances
Parmelee: .246/.333/.435 (125 wRC+) with six homers in 159 plate appearances

I get whey everyone asks about Swisher, but he’s not hitting in Triple-A, he didn’t hit in the big leagues the last two years, and his knees are pretty shot. It’s pretty obvious his days as a productive player are behind him. About the only thing he offers over Parmelee at this point is experience and the ability to switch-hit, and what good is the latter if his bat has lost its punch?

Parmelee, on the other hand, has put up decent numbers in Triple-A this season and he does have quite a bit of outfield experience in his career. More than I realized. He’s played over 300 games in right field in the minors plus another 127 in the show. It adds up over to 3,600 total innings at the position. Yankee Stadium in right field is tiny. The Yankees could hide Parmelee out there for a few innings if necessary. (He’s also played some left field too.)

No one wants to hear it, but between Swisher and Parmelee, Parmelee is the better bet at this point. He’s younger (28) and he’s healthier, and he’s putting up better numbers at the same level as Swisher. I love Swisher. He was awesome from 2009-12. It is now 2016. He is no longer awesome. Getting old (in baseball years) sucks.

The Trade Market

The only trades going down at this point of the season are really small. Loney for cash. Brian Matusz (and a draft pick) for salary relief. That sort of thing. Maybe the Marlins will give up Chris Johnson for cash or a player to be named. He seems like a realistic trade candidate. That type of player. Triple-A options around the league include, uh, Casey McGehee? Is he any better than Parmelee? The Yankees aren’t going to want to give up much for a new 25th man on the roster nor should they. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a meaningful trade. A trade like the Ackley trade represents the best case scenario. Young-ish and versatile players are hard to get.

Free Agenchahahah

Here is the list of current free agent first basemen, via MLBTR:

Jeff Baker (35)
Corey Hart (34)
Justin Morneau (35)
Mike Morse (34)

Hart’s knees are shot and he hasn’t faced live pitching since last June. Morneau had elbow surgery in the offseason and won’t be able to swing a bat until next month, according to LaVelle E. Neal. Baker hasn’t hit much the last few seasons and he literally handed out clown noses in the clubhouse to make fun of the Marlins front office last year. Good luck getting a job after that.

Then there’s Morse, who went 0-for-8 with the Pirates last month before being released. He was traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Pirates last year, so I’m not sure who is paying what percentage of his $8.5M salary, but it doesn’t really matter. Because he was released, the Yankees (or any other team) can sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Someone else is paying the rest of that $8.5M.

Morse did not hit last year (83 wRC+), not even against lefties (93 wRC+), and he’s 34 and only getting older. That said, he can play first base and handle right field in an emergency. He’s not the best free agent option. He’s the only free agent option. Oh, and by the way, he hasn’t faced live pitching in nearly two months now, so yeah. Morse is not exactly game ready. Free agency doesn’t offer much help.

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Swisher reportedly has an opt-out date in his contract sometime in June and that could very well play a role in the team’s decision. Would the Yankees call up Parmelee knowing they could lose Swisher in a few weeks? That would leave them with no true Triple-A first baseman. Parmelee is likely the better player right now, but he might be the least roster and depth friendly option too.

My guess is the Yankees are going to roll with Romine as the backup first baseman for a few weeks and hope Teixeira’s neck doesn’t act up. Refsnyder will probably start working out at first too because, really, what do the Yankees have to lose? Taking grounders and throws before games only makes sense. Swisher could force the Yankees to make a decision with his opt-out, though his production doesn’t scream “call me up!”

Make no mistake, the Yankees aren’t going anywhere unless Teixeira starts hitting and soon. If they have to turn to their backup first baseman regularly at any point from here on out, they’re in big trouble. That was true even if Ackley stayed healthy. Expect them to scour the waiver wire these coming weeks for a potential backup at first. Chance are the best possible solution is already in-house.

Poll: The Backup Infielder

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

At some point during the road trip the Yankees are expected to welcome Alex Rodriguez back from the DL. He is eligible to be activated tomorrow, though following last night’s game Joe Girardi admitted that won’t happen. A-Rod has yet to test his hamstring by running at full speed. That’s kind of a big deal.

“He is not going to be ready on Thursday. He still has some hurdles to cross and get by, and he is not by them yet. He really hasn’t had a setback. We were hoping for 15 days, but it will be more than that,” said Girardi to George King yesterday. The team does expect to get Alex back “sometime in Oakland” though. He’ll be back soon, just not tomorrow.

Whenever A-Rod comes back, the Yankees will have to clear a roster spot for him, which almost certainly means demoting either Rob Refsnyder or Ronald Torreyes. I suppose the team could cut ties with Dustin Ackley, but that would surprise me. They could use the lefty bench bat and they wouldn’t have a backup first baseman. Refsnyder or Torreyes it is.

It’s easy to assume Refsnyder’s stint with the Yankees will be short-term a la Gary Sanchez last week — the circumstances aren’t quite the same, but you know what I mean — because, after all, Torreyes has been with the team all season and has mostly been fine. I don’t think that is necessarily the case, however. Refsnyder has the better track record offensively and he’s improved his versatility by playing third base and right field this year. He could stick instead.

For now both Refsnyder and Torreyes are on the roster until A-Rod comes back, whenever that may be. We’re not going to learn a whole lot about these two in the coming days, especially if they ride the bench, so we know pretty much all we need to know about them right now. Which one is a better fit for the bench going forward? Let’s look.

The Case For Refsnyder

Here’s a challenge: try to make a case for Refsnyder that doesn’t involve citing minor league stats from a year or two (or three) ago. Refsnyder is now 25 years old and he’s in his third year at Triple-A. His numbers have gotten worse each season (Triple-A wRC+ from 2014-16: 137, 123, 115) and he’s not a good defender at all. Refsnyder is, by all accounts, a great teammate and a hard worker. That matters. But so does everything else.

Refsnyder offers versatility in that he can play second and third bases in addition to right field, though we’ve seen him at second and third, and it’s not pretty. Right field? I’m not so sure. I haven’t seen him out there. He could be a Jason Heyward level defender for all I know. Seems unlikely though. So Refsnyder’s versatility isn’t as valuable as it may seem. Sure, he can play multiple positions, but if he can’t play them even decently, what’s the point?

That said, Refsnyder does have offensive upside, especially compared to Torreyes. He has more power — Torreyes has hit 22 home runs in over 2,600 pro plate appearances — and late last season he also showed the ability to spray the ball around a bit. And, even though his defense is below-average, it’s passable. Refsnyder probably isn’t someone you would be comfortable playing every day, but he can make spot starts here and there no problem.

The case for Refsnyder is built around his offense, and offense has been a problem for the Yankees much of the season. Especially against lefties too. They’ve hit .231/.289/.345 (78 OPS+) as a team against southpaw starters this year. We’ve already seen a few clubs call up lefties to make spot starts against the Yankees for that reason (Blake Snell, Cesar Ramos). Refsnyder’s righty bat would help the lineup whenever a lefty is on the mound. Torreyes has started 12 of 38 games. Start Refsnyder that often and his glove won’t be a huge issue.

The Case For Torreyes

Torreyes and Refsnyder are pretty much opposites. Refsnyder is bat first and glove second. Torreyes is bat second and glove first. Torreyes did get off to a fantastic start offensively, going 6-for-9 in his first three games, but that was never going to last and it hasn’t. He’s gone 4-for-29 (.138) since and is down to .263/.282/.342 (66 wRC+) on the season overall. Ewww.

(Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

That said, Torreyes does have an elite offensive tool in his contact ability. He’s struck out four times in 39 bats (10.3%) and his swing and miss rate is a measly 7.5%. Torreyes struck out in 6.2% of his minor league plate appearances, so this isn’t small sample noise, this is who he is. Few players in the game can get the bat on the ball as frequently as he can. Put the ball in play and generally good things happen.

In the field is where Torreyes really makes an impact. He’s an above-average gloveman who has already played the three non-first base infield positions this season, plus he’s spent a few innings in right field. Girardi has said he’s comfortable playing Torreyes pretty much anywhere. Offense can be hit or miss with bench players because it’s easy to lose rhythm with sporadic playing time. Defense seems to be more of a constant.

(It’s worth noting that if the Yankees go with Refsnyder or Torreyes, Starlin Castro would have to take over as the backup shortstop.)

Keeping Torreyes would mean prioritizing defense over offense and, frankly, the Yankees could use help in both departments. That he puts the ball in play so much means he’ll occasionally run into a BABIP fueled hot streak, like he did early in the season. Zero power limits his offensive upside though. Torreyes is a classic bench guy who can play almost anywhere and control the bat.

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I’m pretty sure I know how this poll is going to turn out, but I guess I’ll post it anyway. Both Refsnyder and Torreyes have clear strengths and weakness and they are different strengths and weaknesses, which is why this is not an insignificant question. If they had the same skill sets, then who cares? Pick one and move on. They offer different things and the Yankees have to figure out which one fits their needs better.

Who should the Yankees keep with A-Rod returns?