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Ask Pinstripe Alley 8/19/16: The futures of Brian McCann, Rob Refsnyder, and Joe Girardi

The Yankees’ focus has basically moved beyond 2016, so it’s fitting that this week’s mailbag also looked ahead.

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Ask Pinstripe Alley

I asked for questions. You answered the call.

You gave me questions. I will answer the call. There were plenty more in the comments and our e-mail inbox to choose, but we still might answer them! This is just one editor’s response. Without further ado:

Greg Rienzi asked: I know there’s talk of heading into next season with Brian McCann as the DH, but I think we’re better served with trading Mac and putting a bigger bat in that role. What are your thoughts of the Yankees signing a Trumbo, Encarnación, Bautista, or Cespedes? Note: I don’t want to go over a 3-year deal. So, pass, right?

I’m on board with trading McCann in the right deal since that’s the outcome that seems best for both sides at this point. McCann is a great clubhouse guy and will certainly be a good sport about rookie Gary Sanchez being the everyday catcher now, but you know he would still like to catch. I wouldn’t blame him, as while his offense is not quite what it used to be, he still has a 20-homer bat and a strong defensive reputation.

So let’s suppose that the team finds a deal in the off-season and McCann waives his no-trade clause. I don’t think that they would be able to sign any of those mashers to a three-year deal, other than maybe Yoenis Cespedes since he just signed one last year with the Mets (albeit with a one-year opt-out). It wouldn’t be cheap though. Mark Trumbo is in a career year with a league-leading 35 homers already, and while older, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion remain consistently elite sluggers. They should all receive at least four-year deals.

The bottom line is that I don’t think they should go out of their way to sign one of those guys to a big contract just to DH. I could see them signing a less high-profile name to fill that role short-term, but the future starting lineup could get awfully crowded. Maybe someone who can play first base as well would make sense, since he could be Greg Bird insurance. Mike Napoli is going to have a 30-homer season this year, so perhaps a two-year deal is asking for him to settle too much, even at age 34, but he would be an idea.

84elcamino asked: Why trade Vicente Campos for Tyler Clippard? Clippard costs $6 million towards next year's salary cap when we have plenty of relievers in Triple-A to fill that role and Campos is a cost-controlled starter, or at worst, reliever, which are two things we need next year.

The Clippard deal was the black sheep of the Yankees’ deadline moves, as it was a mild “buy” transaction. It still makes sense, though. Those Triple-A relievers’ failures are exactly why Brian Cashman needed to make this trade in the first place. Chasen Shreve, Nick Goody, and Johnny Barbato have all failed to impress in 2016. Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, and Branden Pinder all needed Tommy John surgery. James Pazos has completely lost the plate in Scranton.

There are some more intriguing arms available, including the recently acquired Ben Heller, but I don’t blame Cashman at all for wanting to give Dellin Betances a little more reliable support beyond Adam Warren. Six million for Clippard next year is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, and he hasn’t posted a season with an ERA worse than league average since 2007. Although not the dominant arm he was for the Nationals a couple years back, Clippard is a fine bullpen addition.

Trading Campos for Clippard is not a big deal. Campos has missed a lot of development time with injuries like the torn UCL. Last year, his ERA was 7.05 in 11 starts with High-A Tampa. It’s nice that he’s bounced back this year, but his numbers were far from eye-popping. Most importantly, his stuff isn’t quite what it used to be; check out this report on Campos by Baseball America experts:

He pitched better this year than he has in a couple years, so it’s an encouraging sign. I don’t think it’s as much upside as he showed a couple of years ago … it’s more average-ish type stuff across the board. There’s certainly concerns about whether he holds up as a starter. Certainly you have the track record of lack of durability and medical question marks on him.

So Campos is unlikely to be a starter long-term, and it’s not like he’s the only starting pitcher in their system with the potential to have his repertoire play up in short relief. There would be a bunch of guys on the depth chart ahead of him in the bullpen anyway. He was a nice player to have in the organization, but he was certainly expendable to make a much-needed major-league improvement.

Matt Gail asked: How about McCann playing first base next year? No Tex. Greg Bird maybe isn't the same, and I'm not sold on Tyler Austin. He's under contract and if it doesn't work out maybe he could be traded to Atlanta or Cleveland. Thoughts?

McCann at first is not a great plan—he’ll tell you that much. As mentioned above, it would be probably best for both sides if they parted ways. If McCann “doesn’t work out,” then the Yankees will receive even less back from the Braves or Indians in a hypothetical trade. Plus McCann is a lefty just like Bird, so it’s not as though they could really platoon.

I can understand wanting a little bit of a safety net at first with Bird coming back from shoulder surgery, but that is the whole purpose of Austin. Even if one is not confident in his major-league abilities, he’s a right-hander and can handle first base. No one’s “sold” on prospects at first, but they have to be given a chance. Even if Austin struggles down the stretch this year sharing time with Teixeira (Teixeiring time?), he deserves more of a look than a month and a half.

If the Yankees also want backup plans for Bird beyond Austin, they could pick a more legitimate first baseman than McCann up off the free agent market. It wouldn’t even have to be a potential two-year guy like Napoli (as alluded above). Maybe it’s just Steve Pearce or a minor league deal to James Loney. Either way, McCann just doesn’t fit this role.

Driftcat28 asked: With the recent additions of the Baby Bombers, one prospect that seems to have gotten lost in the fray would be Rob Refsnyder. What are the Yankees plans with him? Is he only viewed as a utility player now? I figure with the kids getting a shot and Castro underwhelming, why not give Ref some starts at 2B? That could lead to dealing him or Castro this winter for pitching.

It does seem like the Yankees’ plan is to develop Refsnyder as a utility man of sorts. There’s nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t have quite enough defensive acumen to really hold down any one position, except maybe right field, where his bat doesn’t profile as well (and there are better alternatives). So it makes some sense for the Yankees to see if he can at least be passable in a bench role at a multitude of spots—he’s receiving more chances at third now that he’s back in Scranton, and he was fine filling in at first for Teixeira earlier this year.

I have also been underwhelmed by Castro at second base, but he has at least been defensively sound considering his inexperience. He still has the instincts of a shortstop, and that suited the transition just fine. In an ideal world, of course I would like Castro to have an OPS+ better than 88, but that’s not exactly bench-worthy, especially since Refsnyder is a step down in terms of defense. In 144 plate appearances, Refsnyder didn’t really hit either, with an 80 OPS+ as well, and he never went deep.

Refsnyder is only a year younger than Castro anyway, so it’s not exactly a Stephen Drew or Brian Roberts situation. Perhaps sometime down the road, Refsnyder does find a major-league role, but a handful of starts at second base down the stretch in 2016 aren’t going to noticeably improve his value that much from where it is right now. If anything, it would lessen Castro’s value, as other teams could reasonably perceive that as a knock on Castro’s viability at the position.

Andrew Winn asked: In the midst of this youth movement, Girardi, for the time being, isn't pressured to win a championship every year. While I'm not a fan of how he's only using Dellin in the 9th instead of in high leverage situations, his bullpen management (in terms of success in getting outs) arguably isn't important to his job security either. What gets Girardi fired before the next Yankees world championship team? What can he do to receive an extension?

The Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman really like Girardi, and with them committing to the rebuild, expect him to stick around. I think Girardi’s fate is pretty much tied to Cashman. Getting the Yankees’ executives to actually agree to even a mild rebuild was an undertaking, and both Cashman and Girardi likely need at least some of these top prospects to pan out for them to be validated.

Both Girardi and Cashman’s contracts run through 2017. Since some of the big prospect names will still be on the way and the 2015-16 rookies will be young, Girardi and Cashman will both survive a mediocre showing next year. I could see them lasting even if the team finishes a couple games under .500. However, if the mediocrity continues into 2018, that would be really testing the Steinbrenners’ patience. An iffy performance in 2017 would ruffle some feathers, but two years later? I don’t know about that.

So I think as long as the team doesn’t completely blow up a la 2012 Red Sox next year, Girardi will receive an extension. Another lost year in 2018 though would probably not be tolerated. Hopefully, Aaron Judge and company perform enough to render the debate moot.