On second Thought: Keep Drew? The Recent RP Shuffle as Cautionary Tale

Dumping struggling players like Esmil Rogers always takes longer than I want. But the recent RP shuffle has me thinking I'm too impatient. Firstly, after just 1-2 months, it's easy to give up on the wrong guy: as of the end of May, David Carpenter's ERA was bad (4.91), but Justin Wilson's was worse (5.17). Secondly, it’s too easy to fantasize about a shiny new replacement: I was excited to see Jacob Lindgren too after he dominated all levels of the minors, but his 5.14 ERA was about the same as Carpenter's and Bad April-May Wilson's, with peripherals worse enough (3 HR & 4 BB in 7 IP) to take off that new shine. I'm still hopeful that Lindgren will develop just enough command to make him, bascially, Justin Wilson's clone as an effectively wild lefty. But the point is that while Lindgren had earned a shot, the poor command his minor-league 4.4 BB/9 showed made it a little early for him to contribute right away in the bigs – and made it boringly prudent to try out more experienced mediocrities like Chris Martin or Sergio Santos. This RP saga gives me some pause about wanting Stephen Drew dumped. Sure, I was all in on the Refsnyder/Pirela-over-Drew bandwagon this past winter. And while Drew's .178/.239/.372 is better than his 2014 line of .150/.219/.271, it's not a lot better; like a lot of declining old hitters, he's recovered his old power yet no longer can make consistent contact.

But as unexciting as it is to watch Drew ground out all the time, I'm not convinced it's time to dump him. To start with: this isn't my key point, but Drew isn't one of the team's real problems. He's not one of their three worst regulars: his 0 WAR beats out Didi Gregorious (-0.2), Chase Headley (-0.3), and Carlos Beltran (-0.6). If those guys keep those paces up as regulars all year, they, not Drew, will be costing a bunch of wins on a team that's right on the bubble of contention.

The real reason I've grudgingly exited the shove-Drew-out bandwagon is that he's just above the "it couldn't get worse" threshold that justified dumping Rogers in favor of weak alternatives like whoever floated to the top of the grab bag of Scranton righties. Even if some AAA reliever might prove overwhelmed in the bigs, Rogers still had to be dumped, because it couldn't get worse. Unlike Rogers, though, Drew is at least replacement level: his power makes his offense replacement-level (0.0 oWAR) despite the .100s batting average; and his defense has remained consistently very good (0.3 dWAR).

And as with the Lindgren experience, I'm not sure the shiny new thing would be as shiny as we're fantasizing. Neither Pirela nor Refsnyder is a safe bet to provide Drew's barely-replacement-level value. Pirela logged -0.2 WAR by hitting only barely better than Drew (OPS+ of 80 versus 69) while being a negative rather than plus defender; that's in limited action, but hitting mildly below-average while fielding a bit further below average was roughly the scouting report on Pirela.

The elephant in the room is Refsnyder, but he's not exactly forcing the team to promote him. Pre-season, I was pulling for him on the logic that his bat could make up for mildly subpar defense. But his early-season defense was just atrocious, with six spring training errors followed up by seven in his first 14 games at Scranton; while he's simmered down the E rate since, you hardly can fault the team for wanting to see more than 1-2 months of competent defense before turning over the keys to the Bronx 2B post. His bat may be fine, but his unspectacularly solid AAA line (.284/.360/.406) isn't screaming that it'll translate into a solid enough big-league line to make up for the loss of dumping Drew's strong defense for Refsnyder's.

I'm still pulling for Refsnyder: he's an appealingly positive guy in the interviews I've read and the one I've seen; I like the can-do attitude of how he really threw himself into the major change from LF to 2B; and I have a weakness for low-physicality gamers like Adam Warren and Refsnyder. But the experience of seeing the RP shuffle gives me some pause: we were all right to be down on Carpenter, but I was equally down on Wilson, who for the moment is indispensable as their #2-3 reliever; and in retrospect the Lindgren promotion was, though exciting, premature. So while I'm optimistic that at some point in 2015 we'll see Refsnyder justify a promotion with continued stable defense or a little more pop in his bat, I'm no longer gritting my teeth when I see Drew in the lineup.