Of all the Baby Bombers among us, Greg Bird is probably the least popular at the moment. After making his debut two years ago, which feels like forever ago, the mood on Bird has soured from, “This is the first baseman of the future” to “He’s just another Nick Johnson.”
Luckily baseball isn’t just platitudes, and the experiences of the past don’t equate to what’s going to happen in the future. Here is what is true. Bird, one of the best Yankees prospects, has been hurt for a while. He missed all of last year with a torn labrum, and missed most of this year with a mysterious bone bruise that eluded doctors until about a month ago.
The big question everyone will ask themselves as he looks to make his return very soon is, “Is he injury prone?” That’s an incredibly loaded term. Injury prone generally means you can’t reasonably rely on more than 100 games per season in perpetuity, and that applies to a good chunk of baseball players, honestly; players get hurt all of the time, and injuries in the past make it more likely to have injuries in the future.
So, injury prone is kind of this catch-all term that eschews the reality of the situation. Yes, Bird is a risk for future injuries. A repaired shoulder and a nagging bone bruise could always resurface in the future, or a slight nagging could force him to favor another part of his body, causing injuries somewhere else. The better explanation isn’t that he’s injury prone indefinitely, it’s that in the immediate future, in 2018 specifically, he has a higher probability of injury than another average player, ceteris parabus.
On one hand, that means expectations shouldn’t be through the roof. He is going to be rusty, for sure, and there’s a very good chance he doesn’t fully get a handle on his swing until the season is basically over. At the same time, though, expectations should be pretty low, and the bar shouldn’t be too difficult to clear: Yankees first basemen have hit a collective .204/.285/.373 (73 wRC+) with just 12 home runs this season. As long as he’s a league average hitter, not even a league average first baseman, it would be a massive improvement.
The situation also couldn’t be any more important. The Yankees are in the midst of their most competitive race since 2015 and this is probably their most talented team since 2012. They’re five games back of Boston in the division and sit three and a half games up in the wild card standings. Every game matters, especially when you have seven potential wild card opponents breathing down your throat.
With Bird included, this is a much more complete roster. Even when they were rolling in the early season there was still an empty hole at first, and it only looked more glaring as their midseason slump deepened. Lucas Duda, Jay Bruce, or Yonder Alonso would have made sense, but Brian Cashman believes that Bird is the answer. That tells me a lot.
I really can’t say how Bird is going to be. I personally believe he is as good of a hitter as, say, Gary Sanchez, but the question of injuries will remain until he provides a full season of play, and even beyond that. I have faith, though. This is the youngest and most exciting team in Yankees history, the possible dawn of a Baby Bombers Era. All that is left is The Word.