Yankees Face Uncertain Future at First Base

Jul 29, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Rob Refsnyder (38) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 29, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Rob Refsnyder (38) at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

With their primary first baseman the last eight seasons retiring after 2016, the New York Yankees must make a decision regarding their future at first base.

In an emotional press conference Friday afternoon, 36-year-old New York Yankees first baseman announced that he will retire following the 2016 season. He wore the pinstripes for the past eight years and led the Yankees to their most recent World Series championship in 2009.

The Yankees have only really had three regular first basemen since I began an avid baseball fan in 1998: Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi, and Mark Teixeira. There has been the odd Lyle Overbay and Shelley Duncan in the mix over the years, but they have otherwise been pretty stable at the position.

Next season will be the first I can remember where the Yankees don’t enter a season with a clear starter at first base. The obvious favorite would be Greg Bird, who hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs down the stretch for the Yankees last season in place of the injured Teixeira. 

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Of course, the 23-year-old required surgery to repair a torn labrum this February and has missed the entire 2016 campaign. Shoulder injuries can be devastating for hitters and Bird was far from a proven commodity to begin with. Counting on him to step into a starting role after missing an entire season of development is risky at best, foolhardy at worst.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi did drop a bit of encouraging news Friday, telling reporters that the team hopes Greg Bird will be able to play in the Arizona Fall League following the regular season. Bird was the Fall League MVP in 2014 after hitting .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+), a performance that may have been what put him in line for an eventual call-up the next year.

Girardi also mentioned that the team could split time between Bird and former top prospect Tyler Austin, who has revived his standing in the organization by raking with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in 2016.

In 218 plate appearances with the Railriders this season, Austin has hit .319/.417/.638 (203 wRC+!). Yankees GM Brian Cashman also name-dropped him recently as a guy who has earned a look in the major leagues.

Another in-house option is Rob Refsnyder. While his MLB batting line has taken a dive lately, Refsnyder has a solid track record with the bat in Triple-A, and has performed admirably learning first base on the fly in 2016.

He’s already received 21 starts at the position this year. Given his poor performance with the bat, he’s unlikely to enter next spring as the favorite for the job, but could act as a safety net if Bird and Austin should fail.

While the Yankees future at first base is far from certain, they have enough promising internal options that ownership shouldn’t panic and overpay for a veteran solution. At least one of the trio of Bird, Austin, and Refsnyder should emerge as a quality first baseman by this time next season.