2016 Statistics: 126 G, 430 PA, .239/.286/.431, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 92 wRC+, -0.6 WAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 33
A big question heading into 2017 is: how productive will Greg Bird be? Brian Cashman made it clear that there would be some sort of competition for the first base position in the spring:
This says a couple of things: firstly, the Yankees seem to really like Tyler Austin. He had a pretty poor 2016 despite his minor league campaign, hitting .241/.300/.458 over 90 plate appearances, but he also offers some flexibility in being able to play the outfield, which is always helpful on an older roster.
The second thing, of course, is that there isn’t absolute trust in Bird. Why would there be? He missed the entire season due to shoulder surgery and recovery, so you wonder how much, if at all, of Bird’s hitting ability was sapped by the injury. I’m hoping it’s not at all, but the Yankees should be prepared in the case it is.
That’s why some have argued that the Yankees should enter spring with a backup option, even behind Austin, so the organization is prepared for the case where Bird is nowhere near ready for the big leagues. One of these options is Adam Lind.
Lind, 33, played most of his career with the Blue Jays, where he hit .273/.327/.466 (112 OPS+) over 953 games. He hopped to the Brewers in 2015 in the Marco Estrada deal (nice one, Jays), and was then traded to the Mariners a year ago. He most recently had a 92 OPS+ with Seattle.
Even though age and defense are not on his side, there’s a lot to like with Lind. Most importantly, he hits dingers; Lind has averaged 25 home runs per 162 games over his career, and he sports a .192 ISO. There was also a period of time when he was nearly All-Star worthy: from 2013 to 2015, he hit at a 131 OPS+ clip and racked up 7 rWAR.
The key to his success is plate discipline, which is likely coachable. Eno Sarris found back in August that Lind was clearly pressing with a higher swing percentage, and that resulted in a 9.8% swing strike percentage, his highest mark since 2011. During those three years of success, though, he swung at pitches out of the zone two to six percentage points less than in 2016, which gave him better both higher walk rates and lower strikeout rates than we saw this past year.
There’s also a good chance he gets a very small deal, likely less than $10 million for one year. He’s a project for sure, but it could give the Yankees some flexibility in that if Bird and/or Austin don’t live up to expectations, a major league capable hitter could step in. Steamer projects that Lind would produce 0.6 WAR and a 108 wRC+, while Bird is currently at 1.9 WAR and 124 wRC+.
Bird is still the best option, but you have to imagine the error bars for that projection are larger than a hitter who has been in the league for a number of years. I have a lot of faith that Bird will fill the first base role and will do it admirably, but with the Yankees’ financial situation as it is, it couldn’t hurt to have a backup first base option in a dire scenario. Whether Lind would accept such a role, and whether the Yankees would even pursue this kind of option, has yet to be seen.