On June 10, 2014, the official Pinstripe Alley Twitter account tweeted, “Refsnyder is coming for your spot, Brian Roberts. #Refsnyder4NYY”. That was the first recorded use of that hashtag, and it would continue to be used from then until May 17, 2016, so nearly two full years. I’m always fascinated by what fans grumble about, because it always reveals some level of anxiety about the team, and that popular sentiment often says something about that period of time. Sometimes there is wisdom in the crowds.
At first, the call for Rob Refsnyder made perfect sense. From the beginning of the 2014 season to June 10, Brian Roberts was hitting .236/.317/.346 (90 wRC+) with just 13 extra-base hits in 206 plate appearances. Refsnyder, on the other hand, was hitting .345/.387/.547 (159 wRC+) in 248 plate appearances at Double-A and was headed to Triple-A. He was their best option. And think about that.
What if anything does this period say about the Yankees? It was a total nadir, even more so than the poor performance at the beginning of 2016 or the doldrums of 2013. This was a mediocre team going nowhere fast, and they had absolutely no way to replace Robinson Cano. Not through trades, for lack of available options and prospects, and not in free agency. So, that does reflect an anxiety, that the team is so desperate for anything different, that it he was worth a shot. Fair enough. That’s why it’s weird when that narrative shifts.
In 2015 the narrative was largely the same, and he was promoted for the first time, but for just four games in July as a platoon bat. This is where the... suspicion, as I would call it, began. Even one comment on the PSA article talking about his option on July 19th, one commenter said “None of these kids will ever get a fair shot” as long as Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi are around, alluding to the conspiracy that the two conspire to hold back younger players because they favored older ones.
Again, a truth emerges from there. Even though it’s wildly inaccurate to say Cashman/Girardi hate young players, especially considering how much they were relied upon them this year, it does reveal the truth that considering the mediocrity trotted out there, it made some sense to try something different, even if the alternative may have been worse. Change was better than mediocrity, they said.
People wanted to give him a shot, but he didn’t have any obvious position. Even though he was a utility bat, he couldn’t back up shortstop, so there was a ceiling on his usefulness. He did get to play last year, but in just 58 games and 175 plate appearances, hitting just .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+). Throw in the emergence of shiny new prospects like Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Justus Sheffield, and the rise of Gary Sanchez, and Refsnyder could go to the back burner.
There are some who probably still believe that Refsnyder can be a major league capable player. I’m not sure if I agree, but it’s possible. I don’t think he really has a place on this team given the reasons above, but I think he could be one of those players that finds a change of scenery and a full role and prospers. Until then, we can only wonder.
The rise and subsequent (likely) fall of Rob Refsnyder was an interesting story line in Yankees fandom, highlighting a low point in an era where fans were so desperate for a change, so desperate for any young player to step up, that they (and myself included) latched on to any shining light they had, and that was Refsnyder. If nothing else, he’ll always occupy that part of Yankees lore.