Yesterday, long-time first baseman and juice enthusiast Mark Teixeira announced that he is retiring after this season. It’s incredibly sad to hear, even for many Yankees fans who have been frustrated with his inability to stay on the field the past few years; love him or hate him, Teixeira was a crucial piece of the 2009 Yankees team, and he was a formidable part of the lineup for years afterward. A 121 wRC+ over more than 900 games, with great defense, makes him one of the better Yankees first baseman of all time.
A common theme of the Yankees from 2013 onward has been turning the page, and moving on from the dynasty years, or even from the days of 2009-2012. For only the fifth time since 1984, the Yankees will be looking for a new first baseman. Luckily for them, there is one waiting in the wings.
Last season Greg Bird made his major league debut, and he kicked off his career with a .261/.343/.529 triple slash over 46 games. That is an immensely small sample size, but considering the fact he was replacing Teixeira and was expected to produce on a playoff-caliber team this means that the organization thinks very highly of him. If you look at this season, and the way backups and prospects failed to grab starting roles, it shows that they believe he can be an everyday regular.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t health concerns. Bird is currently out for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but the Yankees believe he will be back on the field for the Arizona Fall League. If all goes well, he should be ready for Opening Day.
Now, this doesn’t mean the Yankees will absolutely trust Bird with the starting job. If next season is a year the Yankees are unrepentant about rebuilding, then maybe they hand him the job. However, if they try to feign contention—at least to start off the year—then the Yankees will likely sign a backup plan to compete in spring training and at the beginning of the season. There’s James Loney, Steve Pearce, Mike Napoli, Adam Lind, and Edwin Encarnacion. None of these players are great options, either because they stink or they’re too expensive, but taking a flier on one of them, and then releasing them if Bird wins the job outright, wouldn’t be the worst idea. Nonetheless, Bird has an huge opportunity to win the job.
Could he really be the first baseman of the future? I don’t know. It sounds crazy, honestly, that the Yankees would be able to procure yet another first baseman they can keep around for a while, but it’s possible. It really depends on whether Bird can regain his true form after his injury, because he could be in trouble if some of his bat speed and power are sapped.
So while I’m obviously upset that the Teixeira era is over, another could very well be around the corner. He doesn’t offer a guaranteed success, but considering the free agents available, he’s the best chance the Yankees have. If Bird comes back and hits like he did in 2015, we may not be talking about first base again for a very long time.