After a quiet offseason following the Giancarlo Stanton trade, Brian Cashman and the Yankees made a move earlier this week, landing infielder Brandon Drury from Arizona. The 25-year-old hasn’t shown much promise out in the desert — and is projected to finish with an 81 wRC+ this season, per ZiPS — but provides some veteran infield depth. He bought the team more time to develop prospects Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.
While the acquisition of Drury adds some insurance to one infield concern, Cashman has yet to address the first base issue, more specifically the absence of depth at the position. Drury has played just one major league inning at first and figures to keep his focus at second and third base. Behind Greg Bird on the depth chart is Tyler Austin and his cups of coffee, then Billy McKinney and his nonexistent big league experience.
Considering first base was overtaken by a black hole for four months last season, one would think that Cashman would be on a mission to ensure the Chris Carter experiment never happens again. Yet the general manager appears comfortable with his situation at first base. This would only be the case if he had full confidence in Bird’s ability to stay healthy.
Throughout the injury-plagued season last year, Cashman reiterated that Bird was still the team’s first baseman of the future. Bird rewarded that faith when he returned from foot surgery late in the regular season to finish September and October with six home runs and an .846 OPS. He looked perfectly healthy in the playoffs, as well, smashing three moonshot home runs. That included one of the most important dingers of the postseason.
Bird has had his injury troubles, but Yankees fans saw his potential in 2015 and again in last year’s playoff run. Not too long ago, he was one of the organization’s most highly-touted prospects. Cashman hasn’t forgotten that.
Bird’s shoulder problems seem to be a thing of the past. Once the unique bone in his foot was removed last summer, his recovery process quickly accelerated. He returned to seemingly full strength shortly thereafter. Sure, two straight seasons of lengthy injuries is a concern, but it also could have been flat-out bad luck. Given Cashman’s moves this season, it seems he feels the same way. He’s ready for Bird to break out in 2018.
Of course, it’s great to be optimistic, but there should always be some type of reliability behind your starters. Should Bird miss any kind of time, it could be 2017 all over again with Austin, McKinney or Austin Romine taking reps at first base.
Austin, the likely favorite to back up Bird, has shown his ability to hit southpaws in his brief MLB career (.722 career slugging against left-handers). He also struggled with his own injury problems and struggles to hit right-handed pitching. Romine and his career OPS+ of 54 is also hardly reassuring.
Given what happened last season and the current depth at the position, Cashman must be very high on Bird’s ability to play a full season. To his credit, Bird tore up spring training last season after the shoulder injury, and was swinging a hot bat last fall after the foot surgery. He has shown he can get back to full strength after major injuries, and now just needs to sustain it. Cashman believes he can. Still, some added help just in case wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.