Yankees first baseman Greg Bird is on his way back from ankle surgery, and it looks like he may be returning sooner than expected. When the news first hit, it was immediately thought that he would be out until at least June. Now it could be just two more weeks once he finishes his rehab work in extended spring training. On one hand, this news is coming at the exact right time, but on the other, it might complicate some things moving forward.
Through the month of April, Tyler Austin has done a fine job filling in for Bird at first base. He hit .290/.362/.629 with 5 home runs and 16 RBI. That performance can be measured out to be a 164 wRC+, which is essentially what you might expect from Greg Bird, if he were healthy. However, his amazing run may be coming to an end. In the last 10 games, his performance has dropped considerably. He is now hitting just .200/.243/.514, and he has yet to collect a hit in four games this month. It seems that Austin may ultimately be unable to hold up his early season performance, making Bird’s return a necessity.
Austin’s own limitations have also compounded the need for the team’s regular first baseman. He has done a great job filling in when needed, but his right-handed bat isn’t a perfect match for Bird’s left-handed one. It’s resulted in something of a platoon at first base with Neil Walker, who has been atrocious so far. Getting Bird back would hopefully alleviate the need to have a platoon there at all, which would greatly improve the output at first base. Unfortunately, recent events may complicate that matter as well.
Though Walker has slashed .200/.287/.253 with no home runs on the season to this point, there is evidence that he is turning things around. Since the calendar switched over to May, Walker has seemingly flipped a switch of his own. The switch-hitter is now hitting .375/.565/.563 in the last seven games, which may prove that he’s finally getting out of his early season funk. The Yankees signed him extremely late in spring training, and people have wondered if his struggles are due to his lack of preparation time.
The Yankees brought Neil Walker in on a $4 million deal, not just because he was cheap, but also because the team knew he was better than what the market gave him. We all knew his early performance is not where his true talent lies, and now we are finally seeing him return to a semblance of his former self. The problem is, that just like what happened with Brandon Drury, the Yankees have seemingly moved on without him. Miguel Andujar is now the starting third baseman, and Gleyber Torres isn’t going anywhere at second base.
When Greg Bird returns, the Yankees won’t have anywhere to play Neil Walker anymore. He’s not going to take time away from Torres, and outside of a few starts, he won’t be getting major playing time at first base. Perhaps they could use him as a bat off the bench, but he might be better off being shipped out and used to get a better pitcher at the deadline, if his recent performance holds up.
It’s good to see that Bird is on his way back to the majors, and doing it faster than we all expected. It’s just unfortunate that Neil Walker is only just now starting to come around, and it might already be too late for him.