With signings in the infield, bullpen and starting rotation, this offseason has been an active one for the Yankees. However, first base, which some consider a position of defensive weakness, hasn’t been addressed.
Without any offseason additions at first base for the Yankees, that must mean Luke Voit and Greg Bird will battle it out for the position, right? I mean, Neil Walker, another guy that manned the bag in 2018 just signed a one-year deal with the Miami Marlins.
Notable names still out there in free agency that can play first base include Lucas Duda, Adam Rosales, Hanley Ramirez and Logan Morrison.
Each of these players is in the latter stages of their respective careers, but have the desired experience of covering the position. Although he plays an entirely different spot, the Troy Tulowitzki signing reaffirms the possibility of bringing in aging, yet valuable players to add depth to a relatively short collection of first baseman.
Is it Luke Voit’s job to lose?
Voit came to the Yankees last season in a midsummer trade, sending Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis. Over the final 55 games of the 2018 season, Voit suited up in 39 of them, plus five of six postseason contests.
Throughout those 39 games with New York, Voit batted .333 and boasted a slugging percentage of .689. The 27-year-old also had 14 home runs and 33 RBIs during that spell. Voit was efficient against pitchers throwing from both sides of the mound — batting .326 against righties and .349 against southpaws. Defensively, he held a .993 fielding percentage.
In the playoffs, Voit hit .235, drove in four runs and walked four times. His triple in the sixth inning against Oakland in the Wildcard matchup was enormous in terms of pushing the Yanks far enough ahead to move on to the ALDS.
The numbers don’t lie; Voit came to New York and played three months of solid baseball, including his first taste of the postseason. Furthermore, he had a 1.4 WAR last season, the highest of all Yankees first baseman to play in 2018. That’s got to count for something.
What about Greg Bird?
It seems only one stigma remains about Greg Bird, that he is unshakably injury-prone. After missing all of 2016 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and then having ankle surgery in 2017, he sadly can’t be trusted to stay on the field.
Playing in 176 of a possible 648 games over the past four seasons hasn’t aided in Bird’s experience factor.
Bird is a bang or bust type of player. However, with a career average of just .214, and hitting under .200 the past two season’s, 52 percent of his total hits have been for extra bases. That is an astounding number — but in terms of his overall average, it is offset by 173 strikeouts in 659 plate appearances.
In 2018, Greg Bird fans got to see the most of him in any single season with 82 appearances.
Defensively, he saw much more action than that of Voit. Bird had 284 more putouts than Voit with the same number of errors (two).
Avoiding arbitration, Bird signed a one-year deal with the Yankees for $1.2 million on January 10. If he fails to live up to the expectations in 2019, it could be his last chance in the Bronx.
Who’s on first come Opening Day?
This will likely be a main topic of conversation during Spring Training, as the rest of the infield is essentially set until Didi Gregorius’ return in the summer.
I have no doubt, Voit can be the everyday guy over at first base and succeed. His numbers last season, though small in sample size, were still noticeable. For all his potential, Bird still hasn’t proved his worth, mostly due to injury, but also when he has been healthy, batting under .200 is not everyday first base material.