On Tuesday, it was announced that the Yankees had re-signed infielder Stephen Drew to a one-year, $5 million contract. The 31-year-old is entering his 10th season and played his first six seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and then played for the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox. He will likely be the starting second baseman to begin the 2015 season with Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela being the back-up.
In 46 games with the Yankees last season after being traded from the Red Sox for Kelly Johnson, Drew hit only .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs. Before being traded to the Yankees he played in 39 games for the Red Sox, and his season totals in his 85 total games came to seven homers, 26 RBIs, 14 doubles, a .237 OBP and a very low .162 average.
However, he did not have a spring training or play in the first two months of the season because a team would have had to give up a first-round pick if they had signed up earlier as a result of his qualifying offer, so he could produce stats similar to his career averages. He has a .256 average in nine seasons, which is significantly higher than what he produced last season.
He was the Red Sox shortstop when they won the World Series in 2013, and he hit .253 with 13 homers, 67 RBIs, six steals, 29 doubles, a .333 OBP and a .443 SLG percentage to go with his reliable defense at short (.984 Fielding% + only eight errors). His best season came in 2008 when he was 25 and in his third campaign with the Diamondbacks. He had career-highs of 152 games, a .291 average, 21 homers, 44 doubles and 91 runs scored. The Yankees would take anything between the season he produced in 2013 and 2008.
Refsnyder likely would have had the edge over Pirela if the Yankees did not re-sign Drew since he has more upside and is already better offensively, but since Drew is back Refsnyder will be able to compete with Pirela in spring training to either be the back-up second baseman or the starting second baseman with Triple-A Scranton. Pirela is a 25-year-old utility infielder without much upside while being able to contribute something on offense and defense. Two more months playing with the RailRiders could be beneficial for Refsnyder since the 77 games he played there last season and the only ones he has played above Double-A.
Refsnyder was a right fielder during his stellar tenure at the University of Arizona, and he will only be entering his third season playing second base. He greatly improved defensively last season as he committed 12 errors across two levels and only three of those came at the more challenging Triple-A, but in his first season playing second in 2013, he had 25 errors combined in two levels of A ball. He could use some more fine tuning at Triple-A to improve his defense.
The Yankees can’t really lose from this deal because if Refsnyder is flawless on defense in spring training and continues to hit like he did last season at Double-A and Triple-A (.318 with 14 homers) and if Drew doesn’t hit at all, Refsnyder could start the season at second and the Yankees could eat Drew’s contract. However, a scenario with a higher probability is that Drew shows some of his previous form on offense and his usual solid defense, which would lead him to start at second and Refsnyder to try to improve with the big club or in Scranton.
One other possible benefit of having Drew as the second baseman to start the season is that he will be able to be a veteran presence for the young Did Gregorius at shortstop. Gregorius, who was acquired earlier in the offseason in a trade with the Diamondbacks, has never spent a full season in the major leagues. Drew was a starting shortstop for eight seasons and played 122 games or more in five of those seasons, which proves that he could help Gregorius improve offensively and to a lesser extent defensively because Gregorius is already an elite defender.
Rob Refsnyder, the 23-year-old (he will be 24 in March) second baseman and right fielder who played in Double-A and Triple-A last season, should be the starting second baseman for the Yankees during the 2015 season.
He offers versatility since he played right field at the University of Arizona, but the Yankees drafted him to be a second baseman, and that is where he has played the majority of his games in the minors. In three seasons playing at Charleston, Tampa, Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Refsnyder played 230 games at second, so he has enough experience at the position. After making 25 errors in his first season, he greatly improved defensively in 2014.
In 137 games combined between two levels in 2014, Refsnyder had a .318 average, 14 homers, 63 RBIs, nine steals and 82 runs scored. At AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he played in 77 games and had an impressive .300 average, eight homers, 33 RBIs, 41 walks and 19 doubles. In 64 games playing second base with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre he only had three errors, which helped lead to a .988 fielding percentage.
He can obviously handle pitching at AAA and deserves a chance to prove what he can do in the Bronx. Last season, the Yankees went primarily with veterans Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew at second base. That strategy didn’t work since they had one of the worse offensive years from the second base position out of any team last season.
If Refsnyder plays second, the primary position that the Yankees would have to upgrade would be shortstop. As a result of Derek Jeter’s retirement, the Yankees need to sign a relatively young player who can make the routing and web gem worthy play in the field and hit for some power. Hanley Ramirez is the best available option since he will turn 31 on December 23, and hit .283, drove in 71 runs and stole 14 bases last season.
The Yankees can’t bring back Drew next season based on how he performed last season. Drew had a 10.1M salary in 2013, and hit only .162 with 7 HRs and 26 RBIs.
Refsnyder, who was born in South Korea and was adopted by a couple in Southern California when he was three months old, should be able to handle playing second next season because he is not young for a prospect as he will turn 24 on March 26. He has experience playing in big games since he was named the College World Series Most Valuable Player after his University of Arizona team won the College World Series in 2012.
Martin Prado, who was acquired last season before the trade deadline for catching prospect Peter O’Brien and a player to be named later, played well last season in two months with the Yankees. In 37 games, Prado hit .316 with seven homers and 16 RBIs. He played in 17 games at second base and 12 games combined in the outfield. He only made one error in those 29 games. Prado would make sense as the back-up second baseman and starting right fielder with Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Brett Gardner in right.
Another reason that it would make sense for Refsnyder to be the second baseman is that the Yankees need to have more youth in the lineup because they mainly have players 30 or older. Refsnyder will not likely be injury prone, which is a plus, because Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez are all injury related question marks in the infield. A-Rod is officially back on the active roster after his 162-game suspension, and Headley is a player that Brian Cashman should resign.