As the MLB regular season has come down to it’s final weeks, the New York Yankees have continued to struggle to find consistency with an offense that has become increasingly mediocre, especially after starting the season among the elite in terms of run-scoring. Amongst the biggest problems New York has had all season is a lack of production from the first base position.
The Bombers’ first basemen currently rank in the bottom 30% in BA, OBP, SLG, and are 28th in homeruns. At a position full of offensive stars, with 20 current players holding at least a 110 WRC+, the Yankees clearly have an issue they need to fix to consider themselves a serious postseason contender.
However, they have failed to find a competent solution all year. The list of players to start at first is an ugly one that includes failed journeymen such as Chris Carter and Ji Man Choi, as well as young projects in Tyler Austin and Garrett Cooper. Even relief pitcher Bryan Mitchell spent an inning there.
Fully aware of the issue at hand, Yankees GM Brian Cashman attempted to find a solution by releasing Carter, and trading for veteran Todd Frazier prior to the July 31st trade deadline. The club then moved third baseman Chase Headley across the diamond to first, in hopes Headley’s mediocrity could coexist with Frazier’s power and on-base ability to deepen the bottom of the order.
That experiment hasn’t succeeded either, as Frazier has barely hit above the Mendoza line as a member of the team. With the struggles of Aaron Judge, as well as an injury to Matt Holliday, the need for a bat in the middle of the lineup became obvious: Enter Greg Bird.
Bird, the Yankees 24-year old former top prospect, and a player many still consider a big part of the future for the organization, has had significant injury issues early in his career. In his rookie season in 2015, despite hitting to a .261/.343/.529 slash line with 11 HRs in 46 games, he revealed at the end of the season that he played most of the season with shoulder discomfort. Later that offseason, Bird was forced to undergo surgery to replace a torn labrum, which resulted in the prospect to miss the entire 2016 season.
After getting his shoulder back to full health, Bird was ready to go once 2017 Spring Training began. Not only was he ready, but he was on fire! Pacing the Grapefruit league with 8 HRs in under 60 at-bats, Bird ran away with the Yankees starting first base job.
However, in the final game of the preseason Bird fouled a ball directly off his ankle and left the game early as a precaution. The issue carried over into the season, and after he fouled a ball off the same spot again in late April, the Yankees placed him on the DL.
A healthy Greg Bird has always been able to hit. In every minor league stint Bird was a part of on his way up to the majors, he had a 133 WRC+ and .358+ OBP in all of them. Regarded as a power-hitting first baseman with a tremendous eye at the plate, Bird opened the season up as the Yankees three-hole hitter, and was even expected to be a major part of their success.
However, after starting the season 6/60, and then going down with the ankle injury, the Yankees were never able to find a stable solution during his absence. After undergoing surgery mid-season to remove a mysterious bone in the back of his ankle, Bird went on an extended rehab and returned in the weekend series against the Mariners.
If he hits anything like he has shown he is capable of throughout his minor league career and the way he did in his cup of coffee in 2015, the Yankees have exactly what they need in their hands, and that is a strong hitter with a great eye and power to all fields. Greg Bird could be the missing piece the Yankees need to continue on their spirited playoff push.
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