Yankees can only afford to give Greg Bird one more shot
At 25, Greg Bird is entering territory where he can no longer be considered a prospect. Which means if 2018 doesn’t go to plan, it’s time for the Yankees to look at other first base solutions.
Let me start out by saying that I’m wholeheartedly rooting for Greg Bird in 2018. I want him to be the first baseman of the Yankees for many, many years. But I’m a realist. I wanted the same thing for Nick Johnson, and Kevin Maas long before him.
Sometimes we don’t get what we want, or a particular player deserves. Which is why I believe Bird is entering his make or break season with the Bombers.
In what seems a bit like Deja Vu, one baseball website after the other is stating that THIS will be Bird’s breakout year!
I’m sorry, wasn’t that the headline in 2016 and 2017? Every article begins the same — talking about Bird’s pop, which he first displayed upon his call-up to the show in ’15 (11 home runs in 155 at-bats).
Then there’s usually a reference to his other-worldly offensive display during last Spring Training (.451/.556/1.098 with eight homers and 15 RBI in 51 at-bats). Alas, each article ends with the possibility of Bird finally putting it all together IF he stays healthy to play an entire season.
Seriously, though, besides from blind faith and a love for all things Yankees, what makes us think the Colorado native can avoid even one stint on the disabled list in ’18?
The benefit of the doubt
To date, the Yankees have done everything they can to prop up Bird as the first baseman of the present, let alone future. Monetary considerations aside, they’ve avoided making a play for perennial All-Star Eric Hosmer, signing a player coming off a career year like Yonder Alonso and have even steered clear of inking a low-risk type like Mark Reynolds.
While this should give Bird all the confidence in the world that he’s the guy manager Aaron Boone will pencil into the No. 3 infield position, who’s Bird’s backup, just in case?
Fringe prospect Mike Ford is no longer within the organization, following his Rule Draft 5 selection by the Mariners (though, there is a chance he is returned to the Yanks sometime this season).
Neither is Todd Frazier, Ji-Man Choi, Matt Holliday, Chase Headley or Garrett Cooper.
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Tyler Austin is still in town and will be fighting for a roster spot this spring. At 26, Austin is running out of time to make his mark in the Bronx. A solid defender with a sturdy stick, Austin needs to close the sizable gap in his swing while also doing what he can to foster better luck as to avoid a plague of injuries of his own.
The other new alternative is right fielder turned first baseman, Billy McKinney. The former top Cubs prospect got rave reviews for manning the bag during the recent Arizona Fall League.
Coming off a ’17 that saw McKinney promoted to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees are hopeful he can continue his rise and build off a superb campaign where he hit .277 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI.
Even still, Bird is the word, as he proved capable, hitting eight home runs in his final 29 games last season. His .891 OPS and 132 sOPS+ catapulted a stellar playoff performance, which hit an exclamation point in Game 3 of the ALDS when he belted a 7th inning moon shot off of Andrew Miller.
Still a Ways to Go
I’ve read in more than a few places where speculation speaks to the notion of using Jacoby Ellsbury at first base in an emergency. While I’m all for milking something useful out of $68.5 million, just because a player is athletic doesn’t mean the transition to an infield position will be seamless. See Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann and Matt Holliday.
Even still, don’t be surprised to see the Yankees’ fifth outfielder fielding grounders at first base this spring. It might be a better option than ever again using Austin Romine there.
Romine is a fine backup catcher, but his nonexistent bat means he should never step foot on a field at any other position. I wish people would stop undervaluing the importance of a great defensive first baseman.
In an infield full of question marks at third base and second base, a Gold Glove-caliber player at first would be a huge plus.
Unfortunately, Bird, even at 100% health is no Mark Teixeira. He may not even be as good as Austin or McKinney around the bag — and as far as comparing arm strength — forget about it.
Bird’s lumbering base running ability is also a less desirable attribute we’ll have to deal with (see the above picture from the ALCS).
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On the bright side, Bird has been shown the keys to the kingdom at first base because of his bat. The pop he provides from the left side of the plate would be the perfect barrier between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup. I just hope we get to see that happen in 2018. Fingers crossed and cryotherapy tanks ready.