After the 2015 season ended it seemed like an inevitability that Mark Teixeira's final season for the Yankees would be 2016 and Greg Bird would take over first base for 2017. As much as Teixeira's a beloved Yankee, fans were ready to say goodbye and thank him for his time in pinstripes. Instead of being so quick to say goodbye, the Yankees should strongly consider signing Tex to a multi-year deal after the 2016 season.
February 2016 didn't start out ideally for the Yankees as on the first day of the month they and their fans received the unfortunate news that Greg Bird would miss the entirety of the 2016 season in order to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. Once news hit a multitude of questions hit ranging from "what happens if Tex gets hurt again?" to "what happens in 2017 now?"
The 2017 question is an interesting one as the team insists that Bird should be healthy enough and recovered to play baseball. However, is it really wise to throw Bird into the fire as the primary first baseman with no real backup plan in place?
With Teixeira's contract ending after the year, most fans (rightfully) assumed that Bird would be the first baseman in 2017 and onward while Teixeira will likely be able to find a deal to play elsewhere and it will be a sad but mutual breakup. This was always going to be a tough pill to swallow, but one that made sense. Bird was ready to take the next step, and it seemed likely that Teixeira would want to keep playing first base.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that Bird will be ready to go Opening Day 2017, as he could suffer any number of setbacks; rehab could take longer than anticipated, he could take a while to get used to swinging again, catching and throwing could prove to be difficult. So why not bring Teixeira back for 2017 to provide Bird insurance?
Everyone: "Because he likely won't accept a one-year deal, Kunj"
Me: "Right. So actually, why not bring him back for multiple years?"
Before people start calling for my head, just hear me out. Greg Bird should absolutely still be and is the future. I am in no way advocating for the Yankees to sign Teixeira to be the first baseman for the next X number of years. However, recent comments made by the All-Star first baseman give the Yankees a clear outline of how to bring Teixeira back and still ensure Bird's future.
"I think I have a lot of good years left in me especially after last year," he said. "I’d love to play five more years; I’d love to play until I’m 40. My body feels so good, why not play until I’m 40? Being the kind of hitter I am, I can be a DH the last few years of my career, which could really prolong it. I would love to play that long."
Usually it takes a long time for stars to accept that they should no longer play the field, Yankees fans saw Jorge Posada struggle with becoming a designated hitter because he fully believed he should still be the catcher for the team.
"That's the easiest question you could ask me," Teixeira said in the GMS Field clubhouse on reporting day for Yankees position players. "I'd love to stay here, but we'll see what happens at the end of the year."
Add the fact that he wants to stay with the Yankees to the fact that he knows he would have to and is willing to shift positions, Teixeira's recent comments lend themselves to a pretty obvious plan:
2016: Mark Teixeira, first base. Alex Rodriguez, designated hitter.
2017: Greg Bird, first base. Mark Teixeira, first base/designated hitter. Alex Rodriguez, designated hitter.
2018 and beyond: Greg Bird, first base. Mark Teixeira, designated hitter.
Alex Rodriguez, manager.
For the 2016 season, the Yankees hopes of any success are dependent on Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. The two hit back-to-back in the Yankees lineup and have been teammates ever since Teixeira joined prior to the 2009 season. As the longest tenured Yankee and as one of the leaders of the clubhouse, Teixeira should take this season to talk to Rodriguez and learn his secrets of being a full-time DH.
2017 is when things get tricky, but it's a plan many fans suggested for 2016 just to ensure Bird gets himself in the lineup. I'll be honest, I wasn't a fan of it for 2016 in those circumstances, but for 2017, I think it's a sound strategy. Bird can still be the primary first baseman, but have him and Teixeira share time there to ease Bird's transition back to full-time baseball player.
The following year, Teixeira and Rodriguez can share time at DH as Rodriguez will turn 42 during the 2017 season and will probably need a lot more time off than usual. Plus sharing first base duties can keep Teixeira fresh, and splitting time between there and DH in more than just a "random half day off" capacity should help the veteran learn what it takes to truly embrace the role.
After that, in 2018 and beyond, it's really simple. Have Bird be the team's everyday first baseman and Teixeira be the designated hitter. Unfortunately, if something happens to Teixeira in 2016, Bird will not be there to take the mantle as he was last year. However, he should be back for 2017, and the obvious plan is for Bird to be the first baseman and have A-Rod finish his contract and likely his career. Texeira turns 36 on April 11th of this year, so if his "play until 40" comments were to be believed that would mean signing him until 2020.
It may seem like a long time and a crazy idea to sign him to a long term deal, especially when the team is very clearly in the middle of a youth movement, however, if the Yankees brought back Teixeira for 2017 and beyond he could provide some stability and a veteran presence for years to come. Plus there's a very good chance he wouldn't cost nearly as much as he does in his current contract.
Teixeira wants to keep playing until he's 40, wants to keep playing for the Yankees, and has accepted he could be a DH for the "last few years" of his career. Notice how he doesn't say "last year" and yes, I'm probably over-analyzing this, but he's willing to eventually transition to designated hitter. It just makes sense to make this move.