The New York Yankees’ offensive success in 2017 will be highly influenced or even dictated by Greg Bird, a man they wish they had a year ago.
The plan was to send the bird man of New York to the minors to start the season, while Mark Teixeira — owed $23 million and coming off an all-star campaign the year prior — would retain his starting position.
After all, there was no pressure.
2015 was a year in which Yankees’ first baseman hit 47 home runs, maintained a .504 slugging percentage and made just six errors in the field — all top 10 in major league baseball.
That said, even when Bird went down with a right shoulder injury, Girardi did lose a kid who slashed .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs in 46 games but wasn’t overly troubled thanks to the stellar year by his starter the year before.
Teixeira provided the Yankees with a driving force and without his bat, New York likely doesn’t make the postseason let alone compete for a spot.
The slick-fielder finished 28th in MVP voting thanks to a .255 with 31 homers and 79 RBI’s in 111 games until a fracture decimated his chances to finish off the season.
He came back healthy the following season, but his ineffectiveness caused a faithless first base shuffle that Yankees’ fans haven’t seen for quite some time.
From Opening Day to June 25, Teixeira slashed .176/.271/.259 with just three home runs as he struck out 50 times in 49 games.
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In that same time frame in 2015, the switch-hitter had already smacked 18 home runs so there was an honest reason why they were 6.5 games back last year compared to 1.5 two years ago. Not having Bird to turn to while trying to replace 31 homers with Dustin Ackley, Chris Parmelee, Rob Refsnyder, Ike Davis and eventually Billy Butler was truly a predicament.
If you want a reason why the Bombers finished second-to-last in batting average with runners in scoring position? It was the complete lack of consistency from the first base position (in part).
As Bird looks to come back following his recovery from shoulder surgery, a strong return would do tremendous things for an offense that missed his presence last season.
He just completed his time down in the Arizona Fall League and although his numbers weren’t encouraging, getting at-bats while remaining healthy were more significant than any number.
In 17 games, the rusty Bird slashed .215/.346/.364 with only one home run and four doubles. However, his on-base percentage (.346) and walks (12) reassured his organization that although his power and swing may be weak due to time off, but his plate discipline has not disappeared.
However, while one should expect Bird to come back fully healthy and ready to stabilize the lineup that already features Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, New York’s probability of success will take a massive downturn if production from Bird does not return.
Fangraphs’ Steamer is predicting the 24-year old to slash .264/.346/.489 with 24 home runs in 122 games. If Bird can actually play 150, his projected home run total would rise to 30.
That’s fine and dandy, but the key for Bird is staying healthy throughout the remainder of the offseason and spring training.
Now that Teixeira is retiring from the game, it’s time for the Bird show. If he could make it to Opening Day with no issues (both health and production) and starts the season with the Yankees, the offense that struggled mightily in 2016 would finally be stabilized.
If you were doing so before reading this, don’t discount the importance of Gregory Bird. You saw the treacherous first base shuffle, the ineffectiveness and the tragic final year of Teixeira’s career.
Bird is the hope that the unfortunate situation was nothing more than a one-year deal.