Greg Bird deserves one more year to prove his worth before the New York Yankees look elsewhere at first base.
Greg Bird may be the most polarizing player on the New York Yankees’ roster. On one side, you have fans who want him off the roster under any circumstances. Luke Voit is their new savior and Bird should be run out of town faster than a Bronx native who likes the New York Mets.
On the other side, however, you’ll find a different group of fans. These are people who see the Bird of 2018 isn’t the one we know and love. He’s the victim of another injury-plagued season. His poor performance is not reflective of him as a player, it’s just the worst kind of luck. Greg Bird can still have his happy ending in New York but make no mistake, that window is closing.
A Season To Forget
Now, before we go any further, it’s important to note that as of now, Bird has the support of team management. In an article from Dan Martin of the New York Post, GM Brian Cashman all but confirmed as such:
“He’s a young player with a career still ahead of him, but clearly 2018 has not played out the way any of us — himself included — had expected. He was somebody and has been somebody been who’s worth waiting on, even though it’s hard for fans to hear that. … We just haven’t had a chance to see Greg Bird yet, but I still think it’s in there.”
Cash is half right in this case. Yankee fans got a taste of Bird in the latter half of the 2015 season when he was called up in August to serve as Mark Teixeira’s backup. Cut to Tex suffering a leg injury soon after, and Bird took over. He posted a line of .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 46 games. Teixeira was on the decline and Bird had hit .277 with 12 homers across Double and Triple-A that year. The first baseman of the future appeared to have arrived.
Bad Luck Via Injuries
What happened next was something nobody could have anticipated. Bird missed all of 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. He returned with a bang in Spring Training the following year, batting well over .400 with eight home runs and leading the Grapefruit League in several categories including OBP (.556), slugging (1.098), and OPS (1.654). Given his left-handed power and Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, everyone was rightfully excited.
Bad luck sadly struck again. A foul ball off his ankle towards the end of Spring Training led to an ankle injury that ultimately required surgery. He missed 103 games, hit a paltry .107 in April and finished the year with a line of .190/.288/.422 with nine homers and 28 RBI. However, he did hit .253 upon his return in late August.
Bird also held his own in the postseason, with a line of .244/.426/.512 plus three homers and six RBI. His home run off of Andrew Miller in Game 3 of the ALDS swung the momentum back in New York’s favor as the Yankees won the next three games to advance to the ALCS.
The Greg Bird fans expected had arrived, and the future became all the more exciting.
A forgettable 2018
Fast forward to today, and 2018 has been more of the same. Bird looked noticeably slower in Spring Training. Towards the end, it was discovered he had reinjured his ankle and needed another operation that would keep him out for two months.
Bird returned in late May and the rust was apparent. He was batting .204 with just five home runs and eight RBI on July 1. Granted, he rebounded to bat .265 in July, but then horribly regressed in August and hit an awful .122. With the Bronx Bombers in a tight playoff race for both the AL East and top AL Wild Card spot, he has since been benched in favor of Luke Voit.
Yes, Bird still has 11 home runs and 35 RBI on the year, but his line of .198/.285/.388 is understandably discouraging. His strikeout rate is at 25.1 percent, and his BABIP is a lowly .226. Rather than former Yankees first base great Tino Martinez, Bird is definitely looking more like a Jack Cust type who will either walk, strikeout, or hit a home run. Something has to change, and fast.
Hope For the Future
And as bad as Bird’s numbers are, there is hope he can turn things around. Take a look at his BABIP, and then look at his hard contact rate. It’s at a respectable 39.4 percent. His fly ball rate is at 50 percent. That said, as bad as Bird as looked, those numbers suggest more bad luck than they do declining skills.
Don’t believe me? Look at his pinch-hit appearance in Sunday’s 11-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Bird came within inches of smacking a go-ahead grand slam, but right fielder Victor Reyes made the catch at the wall. Sure, the out hurt, but Bird still hit that ball HARD.
Not only that, but who else would play first base if Bird were to be traded this offseason? Voit has looked strong with the bat, but his sample size is way too small to commit to him long-term. Neil Walker is no longer an everyday player. Dermis Garcia, the Yankees’ No. 29 prospect according to MLB, is still just 20-years old and is only batting .236 at A-level Charleston. Long story short, internal options are few and far between.
And the free agent market is no better. Yes, Arizona Diamondbacks star Paul Goldschmidt is a free agent after next year, but he’ll be 32 if and when he hits the market. Bird, on the other hand, is only 25 and still capable of greatness.
Thus, unless a top-of-the-line arm like Jacob deGrom can be acquired for Bird, the Yankees should keep him around just a little bit longer.
New York Yankees fans are known for demanding results, thus the frustration with Greg Bird. As someone who has cheered for the team for over two decades, believe me. I know how frustrating his lack of production has been.
But because of that little slice of Bird in 2015, not to mention his performance upon returning last year, it’s hard to give up on him as easy it may seem to just tear him apart after a bad game. There is an elite first baseman in Greg Bird. The sad truth is the injury bug just has had a taste for him the last three years.
Which is why 2019 needs to be a clean slate year between the Yankees and Bird, albeit with less patience. He needs to spend the entire offseason working on strength training, particularly in his legs. They’re the driving force behind his power, which the Yankees need to complement Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez.
That said, if Bird can get in a full offseason and Spring Training without any injury hiccups, all signs should point to him performing well. He can indeed be a franchise icon who can stay on long-term.
However, if Greg Bird continues to struggle at the plate next year, be it rough luck or injury, New York should then look for a more consistent option.