The Yankees have a first base problem. This isn’t a new development, it’s certainly not breaking news. It’s been a recurring theme all year. The Yankees have gotten zero production from first base this year, maybe less than zero if that were possible. It wasn’t supposed to be this way though.
During spring training, the Yankees had a “competition” to see who would be the team’s starting first baseman between Greg Bird and Tyler Austin. Though Brian Cashman had stated the Yankees were rooting for Bird to win the job, they still billed it as a competition. It was more about making sure Bird was healthy more than anything else. It was the competition that wasn’t, but was a competition nonetheless.
Bird had missed the entire 2016 season with a shoulder injury, and if he couldn’t prove he was healthy and ready for big league action during spring training, the Yankees would have gone with Austin at first base. Austin did show he had staying power during his September call-up in 2016, so he c
ould be the first baseman. Something about this seem familiar? Yeah, I can’t put my finger on it either.
Bird went on to have a monster spring training where he slashed .451/.556/1.098 to go with eight home runs, 15 RBI, and 12 walks. The first base job was his. It seemed that the final roster spot would come down to Austin or Rob Refsnyder. Then the Yankees signed Chris Carter.
He wasn’t there to compete with Bird, but to back him up. Play Carter every once in a while to spell Bird and hope he runs into one. Not a bad plan at all: don’t play Carter every day. Something’s still off here, wish I could figure it out.
After his strong spring, Bird had an equally awful start to the season. Turns out, he fouled a ball off his foot on the last day of spring training, and his ankle hadn’t been good so they sent him to the disabled list. Tyler Austin was also injured with a broken foot, so the Yankees couldn’t turn to him.
Fast forward to now: June is almost over, Bird is still hurt, Austin is healthy again, and the Yankees are playing Chris Carter every day at first...wait what? So that’s what didn’t make sense!
Chris Carter was not signed to play every day, and yet he is. Tyler Austin was supposed to be the first baseman if Bird couldn’t go and yet he isn’t. It was one thing when Bird was seemingly on his way back, but with him suffering a setback during rehab, we’re left to wonder what’s going on here?
Asked & answered on pregame more than a week ago. They view Austin & Carter as guys who can only play 1B they don't need 2 on roster— Meredith Marakovits (@M_Marakovits) June 16, 2017
This answer almost made sense. It almost worked as an out, but let’s rewind to the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. Both Bird and Carter were on that roster and both are “first base only” guys. So that doesn’t make sense.
they prefer versatility of refsnyder ... Can play 1B, 2B and corner outfield positions. They aren't ready to DFA Carter 4 Austin— Meredith Marakovits (@M_Marakovits) June 16, 2017
This also doesn’t make sense. The only reason the Yankees would have had to cut ties with Carter is because for a while they were keeping 13 pitchers instead of 12. Then the ill-fated West Coast trip happened where the Yankees saw Aaron Hicks get hit with the injury bug.
Refsnyder’s “versatility” wasn’t enough then because the Yankees called up Mason Williams. Currently, both are on the roster. The Yankees went back to a more traditional roster with 12 pitchers and 13 position players. Hicks was hurt, but not hurt enough to go on the disabled list.
They were waiting until last night’s game to make a definitive decision on Hicks, and that decision was made. He was in the lineup yesterday, so one would think he’s good to go. The Yankees still have another decision to make, one that should revolve around calling up Austin.
With Hicks healthy enough to play, both Refsnyder and Williams aren’t needed. The Yankees can swap Williams with Austin and keep Refsnyder as their super-utility backup or they can send Refsnyder down instead and just keep a traditional fourth outfielder in Williams. Either way, one of the two should be swapped with Carter.
The Chris Carter idea was fine, and if the Yankees had a chance to go back and do it all over again, I’m sure they would. That’s okay. It wasn’t a bad deal. His purpose was to backup first base and hope he can provide some value off the bench. He’s still fine for that, but this experiment of playing every day needs to stop.
They don’t need to cut him, they just need to play him a lot less. Entering play on Tuesday, Carter was slashing .205/.292/.391 with eight home runs. Those numbers are actually up, thanks to a June in which he’s hitting .241/.305/.481 with four home runs. Yeah, he’s hitting the ball better, but still not enough to justify his playing time.
Meanwhile, in Triple-A, Austin is hitting .289/.348/.470. Sure he may not provide as much pop as Carter but, as much as I love dingers, this team isn’t really desperate for power right now. They have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday, and company for that. The Yankees just need some production from first base.
With Bird out for the unforeseen future, it’s time for Tyler Austin to get his shot. Unfortunately, it seems the Yankees have no plans to replace Carter right now. Yankee fans have suffered enough with Greg Bird on the shelf, watching Carter every day is just putting salt on the wound.
*Season statistics provided courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference