Saturday, September 19, 2015

Where does Yankees' Greg Bird begin the 2016 season?

The only reason New York Yankees’ first baseman Greg Bird isn’t riding the pine this September is because Mark Teixeira has a busted left leg, and there wasn’t anyone already on the roster that could fill the void. Now Bird is outperforming expectations bringing to light the question of where he begins play in 2016.

How good has Bird been? Let’s extrapolate Bird's numbers through Friday night's game to the same number of plate appearances Teixeira had before going down with his injury.

I understand extrapolation is not an exact science for future performance, but it does give you an idea of the kind of offensive production Bird has provided comparatively speaking to Teixeira’s.

The drop-off is not great, and we’re talking about a player in Teixeira who was arguably the Yankees best offensive force this season before the injury. While there are issues to address (strikeouts in particular) it is easy to see the dilemma of whether Bird starts back in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or grabs a spot on the 25-man roster as the backup first baseman.

The argument to start Bird at Scranton is simple; Teixeira should be fine by spring training and the Yankees will not want to have a one-dimensional player like Bird on the bench. The counter to that point might be to see if Bird can log some time at third base or right field in the spring in an effort to make him more versatile. Bird might even be able to land a few plate appearances when the Yanks want to rest Alex Rodriguez as the designated hitter. Having Bird become more versatile is not an outlandish thought, but rather an intriguing one in my view.

Greg Bird
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavilla III via Flickr
There are issues with trying Bird out in other positions on the field. One, Bird was originally a catcher, indicating he has limited mobility and we’ve seen that with some of his work at first base thus far. Two, he’s suffered from back injuries in the past prompting the move to first base. And finally replacing regular third baseman Chase Headley or right fielder Carlos Beltran on an occasion basis makes little sense with a left-handed hitter, the better hitting side for the switch-hitting veterans.

Most likely Bird will find himself on the Yankees’ 25-man roster, if and only if, Teixeira gets hurt for a lengthy period. Surely, Bird would not suffer from getting consistent at-bats at Triple-A and he would stand to gain valuable experience at Scranton (his fielding would likely benefit from more seasoning). Having Bird, who will be 23 next season, play daily makes more sense to me, so he should be where that can happen.

Also, knowing they have Bird in the wings, the Yankees could fill their bench roles for 2016 without having to sign a “legitimate” first base backup, as they tried this past offseason with Garrett Jones. The Yanks will have Headley, Dustin Ackley and Brian McCann for emergency situations, or the occasional day off (more likely it would be Ackley in that circumstance) and Bird would be a phone call away for any long term ailments that befall Teixeira.

It certainly would be nice to have Bird’s bat in New York, but he’s the future at first base for the Yankees. Bird has shown he is ready and should he be needed to fill Teixeira’s shoes for an extended period, the club will not hesitate to make the call. Even better, they’ll feel entirely confident in his ability to be productive right away. Bird will be a mainstay in the Yankees lineup in due time, but don't count on that starting in 2016.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.