Believe it or not, we are pretty big fans of Greg Bird here. After emerging onto the scene in 2015 with 11 home runs in his first 46 MLB games, Bird was sidelined for the entire 2016 season with a shoulder injury. He figures to be in the mix for the starting role as the Yankees first baseman in 2017, a job that would allow him to make a large impact. It will also be a rare opportunity, as he might not be under as much pressure as he normally would.
Playing in New York comes with more than its fair share of scrutiny. This is far from a new phenomenon. It is understandable for any player to feel an extra element of pressure as a member of the Yankees, given the team’s stated goal of being a World Series contender every year. However, the unique set of circumstances surrounding Bird’s comeback might alleviate that pressure.
First, Bird is coming back from a lost season, so people might not expect him to be at 100% right out of the gate. He is expected to play in the Arizona Fall League, which will help him make up for lost time, but the understanding that he has missed a full year of development should take the target off his back to a degree.
Secondly, he will be competing for a position that barely produced any offense for the Yankees in 2016. Across the league, first basemen had a cumulative OPS of .781. In the Bronx, hitters like Mark Teixeira, Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, and a few others had a combined OPS of .659. Even if Bird is not quite ready to face big league pitching again, it’s not as if he is being tasked with replacing a whole lot of production.
Furthermore, the replenished Yankees farm system should take the burden off of Bird going forward. As exciting as his first stint in the majors was, Gary Sanchez outdid him by a pretty wide margin. Newcomers such as Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres also figure to steal the prospect spotlight. With the Yankees in transition, more highly touted prospects figure to draw some of the attention away from Bird.
The flip side is that his actual job as the starting first baseman is no longer guaranteed. Other young hitters such as Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder have reached the big league level, and could be in the mix as well. Bird will have to show that he is relatively rust free during spring training, and still has enough options to be sent down to the minors if he does not look ready.
Still, his return to pinstripes will probably not be the most prominent storyline heading into the 2017 season. Even though he could fly under the radar, if Greg Bird can play decent defense and maintain an OPS around .800, it would benefit the Yankees’ offense in a big way. Despite dealing with some very bad luck with his shoulder this year, he now has the chance to be a major part of the Yankees, just without as much pressure.