clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Yankees can be flexible with their bench this year

Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, and Tyler Wade have had rocky starts to their Major League careers, but they can still right the ship in 2019

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As far as position players go, the Yankee roster seems pretty much set for 2019. There’s a clear cut starter at every position, and the recent addition of DJ LeMahieu signifies that the bench is just about locked down too. Over the past few seasons, the Yankees have shown an affinity for an eight-man bullpen with three position players on the bench, meaning there’s just one spot left for multiple players.

Keeping a Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade rotation for the third bench spot seems like it might work out best for the Yankees in 2019. No doubt, these guys haven’t had the most stellar careers to this point. Between injuries, performance issues, or both, they just haven’t been as good as initially advertised, but the Yankees shouldn’t just give up on them. It’s not like these guys are expensive, and Bird is the eldest of the three at age-26. The Yankees don’t need these guys to be All-Stars or to even start, but they each bring something different to the table that helps supplement the Yankee roster.

As the proud owner of a Greg Bird shirsey, it hurt so much to see Bird struggle the way he has the past two seasons while Luke Voit stormed onto the scene and rightfully won the starting first base job. Bird just didn’t look like a Major Leaguer last season. He was getting blown away by 90 mph fastballs and when he did make contact, it wasn’t hard. Bird’s average exit velocity last season put him in the 25th percentile of the league. Not a good look.

Aaron Boone speculated last season that while Bird was “healthy,” the multiple injuries he’s had since 2016 had sapped his stamina and strength. A right shoulder surgery and two right ankle surgeries isn’t insignificant. Perhaps with more time removed since his last surgery, Bird can get back to being a promising young player. Should Bird figure things out in Triple-A, he could be a valuable piece for the Yankees in 2019.

Here’s why: we don’t know how good Luke Voit is going to be. The Major League data we do have is great. After joining the Yankees, he was a .333/.405./.689 hitter with a 194 wRC+, but that was 39 games. Neither Albert Pujols nor Paul Goldschmidt have put up a full season that good, so I’m not betting Voit will. Should Voit run into some sophomore struggles, the Yankees could once again fall back on Bird.

I’m fully aware that Bird’s ability to contribute at the Major League level is completely contingent on him figuring things out in Triple-A. Maybe that happens, maybe it doesn’t. If it does, Bird is there to provide depth at first and give a left-handed presence off the bench, something the Yankees don’t really have in their lineup. This is the first time in a long time the Yankees haven’t been counting on Bird. Hopefully, he’ll be able to iron out his issues and can contribute off the bench this season.

Clint Frazier is unlikely to break camp as the starting left fielder next season after post-concussion symptoms kept him sidelined for most of 2018. A trip to Triple-A to begin the season just to knock off the rust seems like the most likely scenario for him. Frazier announced yesterday on Twitter that he’s been fully cleared to participate in spring training though, which means he should be good to go whenever the Yankees need him.

Whenever that call comes, Frazier would be a perfect candidate for the three-man bench rotation. The fact that he’s a right-handed left fielder means he’d be a pretty great platoon option for Brett Gardner, who did not fare well against lefties last season. Plus, the time spent in Triple-A means he’d be able to find consistent at-bats, which is not something he was able to do last season.

The need for Bird and Frazier is a bit obvious. Assuming Bird rights the ship, he can provide some left-handed thump and backup Voit when needed. Similarly, Frazier will be around to give Gardy’s 35-year-old legs some rest and to hit lefties. Tyler Wade’s inclusion in my hypothetical rotation isn’t necessarily as straightforward because DJ LeMahieu already occupies the utility infielder role.

Wade fits into this rotation because the Yankees could benefit from having a second utility infielder. Using Troy Tulowitzki as the everyday shortstop is a real gamble. He played just 66 games in 2017 and has only eclipsed 130 games played in a season four times since 2007. He just finds a way to get hurt. Combine this with the fact that Miguel Andujar might still be terrible at third base, and we’ve got ourselves a shortage of usable infielders, which is where Wade comes in.

Like Bird, Wade needs some time in Triple-A to figure out if he can still hit because he hasn’t done much of that since his Triple-A season in 2017. Even without the bat, the Yankees still might find need of his glove at some point in 2019.

A lot of fans have seemingly given up on these guys, but there’s not really a reason to. True, they haven’t been as good as advertised, but they’re still young, cheap, and none of them are currently in a position where the Yankees absolutely need them to produce. Let them figure things out in Triple-A and bring one of them up as the situation calls for it. The Yankees could use their third bench spot to service a different team need at any given point in the season, and who knows, by the end of the season they might have three guys ready to contribute at the Major League level.