Going into spring training, there were very few open positions for the major league roster. Outside of open spots in the bullpen, the only real question marks were backup catcher and backup third baseman. For the bullpen, it's pretty much common knowledge that they're just seeing who from the so-called "Scranton Shuttle" will make the Opening Day roster, but this will be a constant rotation of whoever is fresh and effective.
For the backup catcher spot, Carlos Corporan was a surprise possible wild card option, but really it was (and still is) just a matter of if the Yankees wanted to let Gary Sanchez play only once or twice a week or let him play and develop everyday down in Scranton. If he goes down to Scranton to start the season, Austin Romine will likely be the guy with a plane ticket to the Bronx. That leaves third base with the only real question marks.
At least with the bullpen and catcher spots, the Yankees and their fans knew who would be competing for the jobs. For third base? No real clues. Some people suggested the Yankees should sign Juan Uribe, some suggested Gary Sanchez learn third base, and while there were many other crazy ideas out there, one thing was for certain: the Yankees needed a backup for Chase Headley. Then in December, the Yankees swung a trade with the Cubs to send Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan to Chicago in exchange for Starlin Castro.
As soon as the trade was confirmed, the wheels started turning in many fans' minds. Perhaps Castro could be the third base backup. While it wasn't a crazy idea, some of the logic these ideas inspired were pretty great. (My favorite thought process for this scenario was "Rob Refsnyder can back up third base by virtue of backing up second base when Castro backs up third!") Eventually, the Yankees confirmed the idea that Castro would takes reps at third base.
"That would be ideal," Brian Cashman said on YES Network last month. "One of the exciting upsides to the Castro acquisition would be that he played shortstop. He was athletic enough to play shortstop. That’s the left side of the infield. He’s got the arm, he’s got the athleticism, that a transition to third should be in the cards. It doesn’t guarantee it, but we saw him play second and play second so well down the stretch there with the Cubs, and we will definitely take a look at him at third.
"… If Castro can do that, it gives us so much more flexibility with that 25th man on the roster."
The Yankees certainly were expecting a lot of Castro. Castro was originally a shortstop, but after a subpar start to the 2015 season led to him being benched, Castro worked his way back into the Cubs lineup as their second baseman. He showed, granted for only two months, that he could handle the position, which is why the Yankees felt comfortable trading for him. They were relying on his athleticism to see if he could also learn third base, while still really learning second base.
Once spring training began, however, a new idea started floating around. What seemed like a crazy idea, and I'll be the first to admit I laughed off people suggesting Refsnyder should try learning third since he could not adequately handle second base, started to become reality.
Girardi said Refsnyder will be talked about as much as any player in today's meetings. Girardi wanted to try him at 3rd. Cashman didn't.— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) February 24, 2016
Looks like Joe Girardi came out victorious in that battle as Refsnyder did start taking reps at third base and has even played a couple games there. During his first start he made this play which impressed just about everybody:
Ref makes a pretty nice stop on the shot to 3rd and turns two! Promising. pic.twitter.com/sBucsF4MKt— Pinstripe Alley (@pinstripealley) March 6, 2016
Granted it's an extremely small sample size, but Refsnyder's first start there along with the reps he's taken during practice probably started to show the Yankees he could at least adequately handle the hot corner. Between Refsnyder not embarrassing himself, at least so far, and the fact that Castro is technically still learning his new primary position, it really wasn't surprising to learn of the news that came out of camp yesterday.
From that article, it seems that this plan is less about Refsnyder, or any other infielder, but more about making sure Castro is comfortable at second base and shortstop.
"I'm not sure if he'll play third. We want to make sure he is comfortable at second before thinking about him getting reps at third," said Girardi.
"It was a little weird, the last time I played there was last year,’’ said Castro
Usually, a reserve infielder should be able to play shortstop in an emergency situation, but with Castro's ability to back up shortstop, the Yankees have different needs from their backups. They need someone who can play second and third, which is where the door is open for Refsnyder to take the job. Of course, to be comfortable with this idea, the Yankees have to make sure that Castro can still handle both positions, which is why he played shortstop in yesterday's game against the Orioles.
In addition to Refsnyder, Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, Donovan Solano, Deibinson Romero (or a whole bunch of who?) are in the mix for that last spot on the roster. The easy favorite to win this job is Refsnyder, thanks to his bat. Early on, the veteran Kozma might have been the favorite to be the backup, but a back injury kept him out of games until yesterday, which is probably another reason why the Yankees were keen on trying Refsnyder out there. That being said, if Refsnyder can't outright win the job, Kozma probably takes it. (In the event it's not Refsnyder, we'd all love Torreyes for pun possibilities.)
The news of Castro not trying out third base doesn't really change much in the sense of the backup third base competition. Rather, it shows that the Yankees are giving Refsnyder a proper chance to win the job.