David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
As of Tuesday, the Yankees still owe Brian Roberts just under $1 million for the remainder of this season -- $933,333, to be exact.
Which had us wondering if that's too big a price to pay for one of the worst offensive second basemen in the majors.
Then Roberts stepped up to the plate in the ninth inning Monday night and told us where to stuff it.
Roberts fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches from Joel Peralta before turning on a shin-high fastball. The result was a tying home run in a game the Yankees eventually lost to the Rays, 4-3, in 12 innings.
One swing doesn't wipe away three disappointing months, but gut-check moments like that tend to make the Yankees think twice about replacing Roberts, who too often has been a liability in a surprisingly weak lineup.
Still, it's a question they could be asking themselves in the coming weeks -- not because of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline but because of the rapid development of Rob Refsnyder, the 23-year-old second baseman tearing up Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
We understand how the Yankees can get jittery when it comes to trusting a homegrown prospect. It's easier to buy a proven commodity, such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira or Brian McCann. But they also have Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner on this $200-million team, along with David Robertson and Dellin Betances. Why can't Refsnyder, a 2012 fifth-round pick from the University of Arizona, get a chance to be one of those guys?
Brian Cashman says prospects move themselves through the system, and Refsnyder has been scaling the minor-league rungs like Spider-Man.
He opened the season at Double-A Trenton, where he had a slash line of .342/.385/.548, and now is crushing the ball for Scranton. Through his first 19 games, he was at .371/.500/.629 with three home runs, 15 walks and 14 strikeouts in 62 at-bats. He barely was fitted for a RailRiders uniform before ripping two hits in his Scranton debut on June 10. Refsnyder has six multi-hit games in his last 10.
"He's moving himself very fast," Cashman said before Monday night's game against the Rays. "It's been pretty impressive. No doubt he's forcing us to pay attention."
The knock on Refsnyder has been his defense. He's a converted outfielder, and Cashman described him as still learning second base, so that will be a factor in weighing a promotion. But Refsnyder is not exactly a newbie at the position. He’s already logged 184 games at second base. This season, he made nine errors in 58 games at Trenton – but none yet in 18 games with Scranton.
“The bat should carry him,” said an opposing team’s scout who has seen Refsnyder. “I’m not sure about his defense, but he’ll work at it. He’s an offense-first guy regardless.”
Going into Monday night, among the 22 second basemen with a qualifying number of at-bats this season, Roberts ranked 21st in average (.233), 20th in slugging (.341) and 16th in on-base percentage (.309). Roberts also was second-to-last in WAR, at 0.0. Only Aaron Hill was worse (minus-0.2).
Despite Refsnyder's hitting spree, Cashman emphasized that any promotion hinges on improving the major-league club and won't take place just for the sake of making a move.
While we can't blame Cashman for keeping Refsnyder at Scranton for more seasoning -- it's only July 1 -- the Red Sox acted boldly in calling up Mookie Betts on Sunday.
Betts, 21, had a profile similar to Refsnyder's during the past three months. He began the year at Double-A Portland, then spent 23 games at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he batted .322/.425/.444 – excellent stats, but not on par with what Refsnyder is doing to the International League. The Red Sox decided to have Betts make his debut in the crucible of a sold-out Yankee Stadium in a nationally televised ESPN game Sunday night. That's a real leap of faith.
The Yankees need help. It feels like something is missing. Probably a few things.
Cashman said as much before Monday night's game when asked if this roster, as currently composed, is good enough.
"I'm not wired to think that way," he said. "I'm wired to think that we got to find ways to improve."
Maybe he should start looking more closely at Scranton.