Greg Bird was due to play a large part over the team's season, but now we won't be seeing him at all in 2016. Prospects break your heart all the time and sometimes they get seriously hurt before things fall apart for them. A torn labrum is a pretty serious issue, but there are at least two examples that prove this kind of injury, at least for a hitter, isn't actually the end of the world, and maybe everything will be ok in the end.
You don't have to even look beyond the Yankees to find evidence that a shoulder injury isn't a death sentence. Brian McCann also suffered a torn labrum, and he's a catcher. The backstop injured his throwing shoulder and underwent surgery after the 2012 season. After the procedure, it took him nearly seven months–202 days–to return to the majors. He started his rehab assignment toward the end of April and was able to return in May for his final season with the Braves.
McCann goes on to say that it was tough for him. "I had to grind through [the 2013 season] with some pain, but it kept getting better and better. It is a tough surgery to have, but if you are not a pitcher, I really do think if you do the rehab you can come back easily." As a catcher, you'd imagine that it would be even more challenging for him to return than it would be for a first baseman, who won't be needing to throw anywhere near as often.
Now, if you compare Brian McCann's numbers from before the injury to after his surgery, it would look like he's been deeply affected by the whole ordeal:
However, in this span, you also have to consider that McCann is over the age of 30 and is very likely declining in his overall skills as a hitter. After all, he's continued to average around 20 home runs a season, even after the injury, and actually hit a career-high in home runs in 2015, so he's still showing to be a strong power threat. As for his abilities behind the plate, there seems to be no ill effects from the surgery on his throwing arm because he's posted a 37% and 36% caught stealing rate in 2014 and 2015, which are the two highest single-season rates of his career. So instead of falling apart, McCann is actually thriving in the field and at at bat.
Going beyond the Yankee dugout, Matt Kemp is another shoulder surgery success story to look at. In 2011, Kemp was very nearly the MVP of the National League. Hit with injuries during his 2012 season, he required shoulder surgery in the offseason to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He went under the knife in October and was able to start for the Dodgers come Opening Day in 2013. In fact, if you compare his career before surgery and after surgery, you'll still see an effective hitter:
It's pretty safe to say that Kemp has been a good baseball player, even despite a fluky 2013 season where he only managed to hit six home runs in 73 games. The one place where his game has been hurt is in his throwing arm as it was only worth 1 run above average over the last three years, compared to 18 over the rest of his career. Unfortunately, Kemp has always been the type of player who has been limited by injury, and while labrum surgery didn't exactly help, he did also suffer inflammation in his AC joint and eventually went under the knife again to fix it following the 2013 season. While Kemp has been beat up by shoulder and leg issues over the last few years, there's no clear link to labrum surgery being the cause of any obvious dive in his playing abilities.
Both of these cases should make Yankees fans feel a little better about seeing Greg Bird miss an entire season because of shoulder surgery. It's not great to have happen, but the good news is that at the age of 23, he will be younger than McCann (29) and Matt Kemp (27) when they underwent their procedures. I'm no doctor, but I imagine his youth is a definite advantage when it comes to recovery time. Bird will hopefully get a fair amount of time to rehab from the injury in 2016 so he can head into 2017 with a little more certainty. While we wait for him to make it back, it might be important to also keep tabs on Michael Brantley, who just underwent labrum surgery this offseason himself. One thing is for sure is that it's probably better to get Greg Bird right in time for 2017 instead of trying to rehab and play through the injury like J.J. Hardy did this year. The shortstop played to an abysmal .219/.253/.311 slash line, which was equal to a 49 wRC+ on the year. Forget that. Just get well soon, Bird.