The Greg Bird era ended last week, as the Yankees designated the first baseman for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. The question of what could have been defined the period, as Bird was unable to recreate his 2015 form after missing all of 2016 due to shoulder surgery. Following three injury-filled seasons that saw him play a total of 140 games, the Yankees finally cut their losses and moved on, content with Luke Voit, Mike Ford, and DJ LeMahieu playing the position in 2020.
Unfortunately, Bird isn’t the only former Yankees prospect nearing the end of his rope in the Bronx. While not quite having the same injury history and lack of performance as Bird, outfielder Clint Frazier, acquired in exchange for Andrew Miller back in 2016, nonetheless has found his way to the outskirts of the organization’s plan for the future. As they prepare for 2020, the Yankees need to avoid making the same mistakes with Frazier that they did with Bird.
Isolate the source of his deficiencies
It may be a bit unfair to say that the Yankees did not isolate the problems with Bird’s swing—namely that he did not generate hard enough contact and has a tendency to hit the ball on the ground—because they’re pretty obvious once you look at his batted ball profile. This article by Joshua is from 2018, but the analysis is still valid. Unfortunately, that knowledge did not help either the Yankees or Bird, as he continued to struggle for long stretches whenever he was healthy enough to play.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Frazier’s problem, defense, is a little bit easier to isolate and work on. The overwhelming majority of his negative DRS came from taking bad angles on the ball when he had to move in, while he was only slightly worse than average moving backwards (-10 to -3). Considering that charging the ball is supposed to be an easier skill than going backwards, and it’s clear that Frazier can greatly improve his defensive value by improving this one particular skill.
Put him in the best position to succeed
Bird proved an enigma for the Yankees, as the left-handed bat somehow wound up hitting much better against lefties (.818 OPS) than against righties (.699 OPS) over the first couple of years of his career. Despite this, 86% (62 of 72) of his starts during the 2018 season came against a right-handed pitcher. To put it bluntly, the Yankees did not put him in the best position for him to succeed.
At the plate, the Yankees follow Frazier’s performance split, giving him more days off when facing lefties (.727 OPS) than against righties (.832 OPS). Defensively, however, the Yankees played him in right field more than twice as much as they played him in left field, despite having UZR/150 of 13.8 in left field and -29.0 in right. Although I quibble with UZR/150 on its ranking for Frazier as a left fielder, there’s enough evidence to show that Frazier belongs in left, not right.
Play him or trade him
From 2017 until last week, the Yankees kept holding out hope that Bird would put everything together and become the big lefty bat everybody was hoping he would become; instead, they’d be lucky to get a positive return at this point. Although one can argue that hindsight is 20/20, it would have been better for the team to try and cut their losses after Luke Voit made him replaceable in 2018. Now, he’s damaged goods.
While Frazier has yet to reach the point where he’s untradable, he does only have one option year left. The day is rapidly approaching where he must either become a regular contributor or leave the organization. At this point in time, if the Yankees do not foresee a major role for the left fielder in 2020, it would be better to trade him now while he still has value.