The 2019 Yankees appear set around the diamond, save for first base. Though Greg Bird once seemed like the first baseman of the future, he struggled mightily last year and lost the job to Luke Voit. The trade deadline acquisition turned into the Bombers’ best hitter down the stretch last year.
Still, Voit is far from a proven commodity and Bird has earned one last chance to live up to his potential. Through the early going in spring training, both players have stepped up. Voit hit a monster home run over the weekend, and Bird responded with a three-run blast on Wednesday and a 2-for-2 game against the Red Sox. Both first basemen are doing the most important thing they have to do this spring: hit.
Bird’s early showing has helped make this an actual competition. Many fans thought the Yankees had officially passed the job on to Voit. In all likelihood, the starting role is his to lose. After all, Bird hasn’t performed consistently for the Yankees since the 2017 playoffs. He sprung to life this spring, however, giving Aaron Boone a difficult decision to make.
There are pros and cons to both players. Bird hasn’t impressed for quite a while. That said, he is two years younger than Voit and possesses a more polished approach at the plate. Boone has also gone on the record saying that Bird plays superior defense, and no one questions his ability to work counts and get on base when healthy.
Voit, to date, has been more durable than Bird. He also proved a fearsome hitter during his two-month stint as a starter last year. The slugger showed tremendous power to all fields, a decent eye, and a flair for the dramatic. His .333/.405/.689 batting line (194 wRC+) with the Yankees is so gaudy, it’s almost hard to believe.
Although Bird has the potential and the youth, Voit did more for the Yankees in two months than Bird did in two years. That alone probably gives Voit the edge. Still, the Yankees don’t want to totally write Bird off. He went out and added 20 pounds of muscle this offseason, and is healthier than he ever has been. If ever a time existed for Bird to rekindle his fire, that would be now.
Management has said that this is very much a competition, and that no clear frontrunner has emerged yet. Boone specifically said that only one of Bird or Voit will make the Opening Day roster, as he named DJ LeMahieu the backup first baseman. While Bird has minor league options left, the Yankees could look to trade him while his value is high assuming he shows more signs of life this spring.
What about a scenario where both guys hit so well that the Yankees don’t want to part with either player? It could work, but it would be tricky. In that case, Bird or Voit would have to DH while the other plays first. This would push Giancarlo Stanton to the outfield full-time, Brett Gardner to the bench and Clint Frazier to the minors. It’s certainly feasible, but unlikely.
So, it’s going to come down to Bird versus Voit. For my money, I’d cast my bet on Voit. The Yankees have no reason to give up on him, while Bird has been hard to depend on for some time. That Bird still has minor league options means it won’t be the last fans will see of him. Injuries will inevitably strike, and the ability to call Bird up from Triple-A will remain.
It’s good to see Bird show the prowess that got fans excited way back in 2015, but the Yankees might have the next great diamond in the rough with Voit. Until he gives the Yankees a reason not to play him, he should be the team’s first baseman.