Despite his poor performance before going on the disabled list, New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is a certain key to the team if they want to have success going forward this season. Teixeira's rehab begins Tuesday and he's set to play three games before returning to New York Saturday. Upon Teixeira's return, the Yankees should consider keeping Ike Davis and Rob Refsnyder with the big league club.
The team has received positive efforts from the Davis/Refsnyder platoon, but if Teixeira comes back and can produce to the level he did in 2015, the Yankees will be better off. In fact, Teixeira's return will strengthen the bench if they follow my suggestion.
The Yankees' infield defense improving with Teixeira back is hardly questionable. In my view, the Yankees' offense will also improve with Teixeira on the roster. I know, this sounds insane considering Teixeira is hitting .180 with a .271 on-base percentage and a .263 slugging percentage through 188 plate appearances this season. Teixeira has just eight extra-base hits on the season (five doubles and three home runs) and he has driven in just 12 runs. Nevertheless, there are reasons for my optimism.
Teixeira has not been in the best of health, and this knee issue can certainly linger as well. My thought is that Teixeira has a lot to play for and fight through when he returns, as he will be a free agent after the season. Teixeira finishing the season healthy and productive will be a major influence on any contract offers he receives this winter.
Teixeira is one season removed from a 30-HR performance, and this will sit in the heads of opposing teams, more so than the notion of facing Davis or Refsnyder. Despite the season-long slump, I believe Teixeira will still be considered a tough out, forcing the opposition pitch differently to the other bats in the middle of the Yankees lineup.
Teixeira understands that his performance going forward has to improve and being healthy is a precursor to that.
"There's no excuses. When you're on the field, you have to perform," Teixeira told MLB.com. "I'm going to put all that behind me whenever I get back on the field with the Yankees, because hopefully the injuries are behind me and I can just go out there and play, be healthy and produce."
Davis and Refsnyder have primarily been slotted in the bottom third of the order. However, this does not mean that they cannot provide some value to the Yankees once Teixeira returns.
Now with Davis, the Yankees have a true first baseman backing up Teixeira. The club began the season with Dustin Ackley, who had very little experience at first base, because the presumed backup, Greg Bird, suffered a shoulder injury that could keep him out the entire season.
Davis has moved around a bit since his days with the New York Mets, but he maintains a good stroke against right-handed pitching and solid defense which gives the Yankees the option of resting Teixeira without losing much production with a righty on the mound. Yankees manager Joe Girardi understands that Teixeira will have to ease back into an everyday role, making Davis an important piece.
"You're probably going to have to [give Teixeira extra rest]," Girardi told MLB.com. "It's probably going to be a fact where I'm going to have to check with him every day."
As for Refsnyder, I think he has done enough to stick with the club this go-around. He has played four positions since being recalled May 30 - first base, second base, third base and right field - and while he's not especially good at any one position, he has not been terrible at any of them either. I suppose, if asked, Refsnyder is the least sure of himself at first base. The lack of complete confidence would simply be due to a lack of reps, thus, my suggesting keeping Davis around for the time being.
Refsnyder provides value in that he can start games against lefties from any of the positions mentioned and he is far from a pushover against right-handers. He can provide rest to several players and be a potent right-handed bat off the bench. Refsnyder owns a .283/.333/.391 slash line with five doubles and seven RBIs in 51 plate appearances. The issue - and there is only one in my view - is that keeping Davis and Refsnyder means the end of Ronald Torreyes and that leaves the club without a backup shortstop on the bench.
The Yankees understandably preferred to operate with Torreyes as the utility infielder because he could play shortstop (among the other infield positions except first base) and they did not want Starlin Castro flip-flopping between shortstop if/when Didi Gregorius needed rest. Gregorius has shown he can play daily and Castro seems fully acclimated to second base. Having Castro play shortstop every so often to give Gregorius a day off is not going to impede on the former's learning curve at the keystone.
The Yankees need Refsnyder's bat either in the lineup or available off the bench more than they need a light-hitting utility infielder who has little chance of impacting ballgames. This is not a knock on Torreyes - he has done his job - but now the Yankees need a different look on their bench for the rest of the season.
As the Yankees anxiously await Teixeira's presence in the lineup, they should recognize the opportunity to keep Davis and Refsnyder on the roster improves their bench.