The Yankees have spent the entire season attempting to improve production out of first and third base this season. Whether due to injury or to a lack of performance, they haven’t been able to find the right combination of players to grab hold of the two jobs. Now, with Greg Bird eyeing a return to the big league roster next week, the Yankees face another decision to make.
Bird has been viewed by the organization to be the future at first base, even with a second significant stint on the disabled list early in his career. Brian Cashman has been adamant that the Yankees would not pursue a replacement for Bird, only considering rentals throughout the trade deadline to hold his place for this run at the postseason. With Bird’s return imminent, will the Yankees hand the starting job over to him right away, or will they slowly integrate him into the lineup? If he does grab first base by the reins, does Chase Headley return to third base, or does he become a bench piece? Is Garrett Cooper going to remain on the roster once Bird is back in the picture, or will he be demoted to the minors? Let’s run through the scenarios.
Bird takes over first, Headley heads to the bench
The Yankees might decide that getting Greg Bird comfortable as an everyday first baseman is more important than maximizing the productivity from the position. They might even think that Bird will provide the most production himself. If that is the case, then they would waste no time in attempting to salvage as much playing time for Bird as they can. Bird would get the nod, and Headley would become the Yankees’ corner bench option. This is viable since Headley has displayed a willingness to do whatever Joe Girardi has asked of him, such as shift positions. Garrett Cooper would be the man out in this scenario, likely going down to the minors to get regular playing time, which would be a rough decision since Cooper has been doing well in a short sample size. He is the only one with an option down however, so he would have to go.
Bird and Headley platoon first
If Bird isn’t immediately able to play every day first base, then a platoon of Bird and Headley could be a likely solution. Headley has been a solidly average batter this season, with a distinct lack of power. The biggest hole in his game however, is his massive split between facing lefties and righties. Against left-handed pitching Headley has struggled, posting a .234/.267/.342 slash line. Against right-handed pitching however, Headley’s line improves to .284/.379/.421. Keeping Headley in the lineup against righties while inserting Bird against lefties would provide an opportunity to bring Bird up to speed while also fielding the most competitive lineup daily while the Yankees are in the middle of a pennant race. In this scenario, Cooper is again the lone man out.
Bird and Cooper platoon first, Todd Frazier and Headley platoon third
A more experimental change to the roster, but one that could actually yield the best results, is establishing two platoons at both bases. Continuing to use Cooper against lefties while giving Bird chances against righties allows them both to be more comfortable at the plate. The more interesting development would be using Headley at third versus righties, while giving Frazier chances against lefties. Why would this be beneficial? Because Frazier’s splits when against lefties as opposed to righties show a .50 increase in OPS at a .21 tradeoff in OBP. Since Frazier’s biggest offensive appeal is his power, putting him in a situation where he is best able to showcase his skills while doing the same for Headley may prove to be wise. The move would also evenly distribute a power hitter and a contact hitter (Bird/Headley, Frazier/Cooper) into the lineup daily. Since Cooper wouldn’t be moved down, one of Caleb Smith or Bryan Mitchell would have to go back to the minors to balance the roster. This would be the only downside to such a move, since the Yankees need depth in the pen at the moment with Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia unavailable, but once the rotation stabilizes this would be a non-issue.
Greg Bird will bring a lot of flexibility to Girardi’s lineup once he returns, and that is undoubtedly something the Yankees need. From Bird, as well as his teammates at the corners, Girardi needs the best he can get to give the Yankees their best odds at the pennant.
What do you think the Yankees should do when Bird returns?