I know what you’re thinking. The Yankees had Adam Lind signed to a minor league deal and then they just released him from his contract. Why? Sure, they had just signed Neil Walker and he could back up first base, but did they look at first base itself? Greg Bird hasn’t hit a lick this spring! So what are the Yankees going to do about first base?
Oh, have you not heard? It was my understanding that everyone had heard that Bird is the word. That’s right, folks. Greg Bird is the word. He’s the answer to the Yankees’ first base problem. Wait, I thought he was the Yankees’ first base problem? That’s the whole point. The Yankees haven’t worried about Bird’s spring so far, nor should you. As long as he’s healthy, Bird will be fine. He always has been fine.
I get why people may think his injury history is a concern, but it’s really not. After winning the hearts of Yankee fans with a late-season debut in 2015, Bird has missed the majority of the last two seasons thanks to injuries and incompetence. Incompetence because if the Yankee medical staff had actually found the problem with Bird’s foot on time last year, he wouldn’t have had to miss as much time as he did. It’s unfair to blame him or his history for doctors missing something.
When he has been healthy, though, Greg Bird has hit. It’s all he’s done. After the doctors finally found what was wrong with Bird, and he healed properly, Bird came back last year and gave the Yankees a much needed boost at first base. For the second half, Bird came back and slashed .253/.316/.575 with eight home runs, which was good for a 128 wRC+ (132 OPS+). He continued that success in the postseason slashing .244/.426/.512 with three home runs, highlighted by this:
Feel free to watch that 100 more times before you continue reading, I know I did before I kept writing.
So what’s wrong with Bird this spring? Why is he only hitting .159/.275/.250? Is he hurt or is he just simply not ready? It’s easy to rule out injury. It’s only spring training, so if something was wrong it’s not like he’d be unnecessarily pushing himself, and the team wouldn’t either. Plus his tone is completely different from last year when there was clearly something bothering him.
But a bad right ankle – which he injured when he fouled a ball off it at the end of spring training hasn’t helped. Bird’s foot was wrapped with ice as he spoke after Monday’s game, and he said it’s “slowly getting better.”
“I don’t make those decisions,” Bird said. “I’ve been open in communication with them and what I’m feeling. I don’t really know. Right now I’m playing. I’m going out there and giving it my all. That’s kind of all I can do.”
Compare that to what he’s saying now.
“I’m on track,” said Bird, whose average sunk to .159 with an 0-for-3 showing Tuesday in the Yankees’ 8-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers. “I have one goal. It’s to get ready for Opening Day, and I feel like I’m in a great place. So far, I’m right where I want to be.”
“I’m seeing the ball,” he said. “I’ve been seeing it good. I just need to get my timing down.”
There’s a very obvious difference in his tone. If it’s May or June and he’s still hitting like this, it’s one thing, but there’s still one week until Opening Day. That’s his goal and there’s no rush. If he’s still working on his swing, that’s fine. This is exactly when he’s supposed to be working on that.
To his point, It’d be one thing if he looked lost at the plate and was just swinging at everything. Bird’s pitch recognition and discipline have been just fine. Even Aaron Boone agrees.
“He just hasn’t got going swinging it yet, but I’ve been happy with his strike-zone discipline and I just think it’s a matter of time before he really gets going,” Boone said. “He clipped that ball the other day (for a homer). I thought he had one good swing (against Detroit).
It’s easy to look at Bird’s numbers and start to worry. But his overall body of work should also speak for itself. Greg Bird is a talented hitter, one that Brian Cashman once referred to as the “best hitter” in the system. Don’t hit the panic button just yet. Greg Bird will be fine.