The Yankees already have their first baseman for the 2018 season. There’s no reason to think Greg Bird won’t be the everyday first baseman next year and hopefully for many years still to come. Unfortunately, Bird hasn’t always shown the ability to stay consistently healthy during his professional career. With the Yankees having lost most of their first base depth this offseason, Greg Bird’s health could play a major factor in the Yankees’ first base production this season.
Greg Bird hasn’t been a stranger to injuries during his professional career. He dealt with back issues early in his minor league career, and injured his right shoulder in 2015 while with Double-A Trenton. After making his major league debut late in the 2015 season, Bird underwent surgery on his torn right labrum, which sidelined him for the entirety of 2016. Last season, Bird seemed ready to hold down the Yankees’ first base job only to break his Os Trigonum bone after fouling a ball of his ankle in one of the final spring training games. The injury left the Yankees without Bird for most of the season.
When healthy, Greg Bird has shown to be a promising young player. Alex Rodriguez often compares Bird to Don Mattingly or John Olerud. In his brief cameo in late-2015, Bird racked up 137 wRC+ in just 46 games. In his final 29 games of the 2017 regular season, Bird hit eight homers to an .891 OPS and 132 sOPS+. In the playoffs, Bird was easily one of the Yankees’ top offensive performers, showing that he can be an extremely dangerous piece in the Yankee lineup. Plus, who could forget this home run:
Without a healthy Greg Bird, the 2017 Yankees struggled mightily to find production out of the first base position. Chris Carter, Chase Headley, Garrett Cooper, Matt Holliday, Tyler Austin, Austin Romine, Rob Refsnyder, and Ji-Man Choi all saw time at first base last season, and it was more or less a disaster. Chase Headley performed fairly well at first after the team acquired Todd Frazier, but the others were either terrible or only saw a handful of games at first. Overall, the Yankees were 28th in the league in first base production last season.
Although last season’s Yankees struggled to get quality production out of the position, they at least had major league talent to fill the position when Bird was sidelined. Coming in to 2018, the Yankees have even less first base depth than they did last year. Carter, Headley, Cooper, Holliday, Refsnyder, and Choi are all free agents or with new teams, and Triple-A first baseman, Mike Ford, was just taken in the Rule 5 draft, which leaves Greg Bird without much of a safety net.
If Bird goes down, the Yankees could very easily struggle to fill the void at first base. Tyler Austin hasn’t exactly shown he’s capable of staying healthy after an injury plagued season, and Ryan McBroom might not be ready to handle major league pitching. The team has recently been linked to free agent Ji-man Choi, but nothing is guaranteed at the moment.
If they don’t find someone, the team might have to play someone out of position. Billy McKinney figures to see some time in the big leagues this year after a strong second half to last season and did get some experience playing first during the Arizona Fall League. He could potentially find himself at first with the outfield depth chart so crowded. Similarly, Jacoby Ellsbury could conceivably find himself at first as a way to sneak himself into the lineup from time to time. There’s obviously no guarantees with any of that though. Playing first base isn’t always as easy as it’s made out to be and not every player can make that transition. Remember how terrible the A-Rod at first experiment went a few years ago?
FanGraphs currently projects Bird to get 84% of the playing time at first next season. Only Didi Gregorius is predicted to play more at any one position. Having Bird’s lefty power bat in the lineup will help break up the heavily right-handed Yankee lineup. Putting Bird in the lineup between Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez would break up all the right-handed hitters in the lineup and could force pitchers to throw a lot of strikes to Bird. On paper, Greg Bird figures to play quite a lot next season; he just has to stay healthy. If he can’t, first base might be another disaster in 2018.