Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Losing Greg Bird puts wrinkle in Yankees’ 2017 plans

The New York Yankees had it all mapped out for 2017; that is until Greg Bird was found to have a torn labrum forcing him to miss the entire 2016 season.

Greg Bird
Photo credit: Arturo Pardavilla III via Flickr
Bird was to take the reins at first base from Mark Teixeira and be part of the new young core of the Yankees. With Bird’s eye-opening performance in Teixeira’s stead at the end of the 2015 season, the club could not help but feel comfortable knowing the latter’s contract was set to expire at the end of this season.

Out with the old and in with the new. It was simple, and it might not happen now.

At issue for the Yankees is whether or not to go forward with the plan in 2017. Bird would have had another full season to build on his spectacular 2015, had he been able to play this season. Now, he’ll be coming off a full season away from the game, and be recuperating from an injury that often derails careers.

Regardless of whether Bird would have played a bulk of his games in Triple-A or in the big leagues in 2016, he might have racked up 600+ plate appearances altogether. The results would surely have given the Yankees a better idea of whether they had a long-term answer in Bird or if he would need a platoon partner or another season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

There is a slight chance that Bird is able to recoup in a timeframe that allows some playing time at the very end of this season. However, what could really be determined by that, and would it be worth risking further injury by interfering with the healing process?

The Yankees could certainly put all their faith in Bird in 2017, assume he recovers completely and loses none of the power in his stroke. He was not going to be taking over first base because of his glove, but rather because he’s shown promising power to all fields.

While Bird is just 23, his injury history which includes back problems, has become alarming. Back and shoulder issues for a power-hitter can be detrimental no matter the age of the player, so it would not be all that surprising if they pushed the clock back by a year. If they hold Bird back, who mans first base for the Yanks in 2017?

Believe it or not, the Yankees could think about inking Teixeira to a one-year deal. The Yankees could saddle him with a qualifying offer and it might be his best option. Or the Yankees may choose to sign Teixeira for two seasons and transition him to the designated hitter role in 2018 when Alex Rodriguez is off the books. These are plausible scenarios, but a couple of questions come immediately to mind.

First, would Teixeira want to stay for just one season (or two) if he could get a better deal elsewhere? Would the Yanks want to add what would amount to a sizable chunk of salary (qualifying offers were worth $15.8 million in 2016, and are sure to rise) when they thought they were getting rid of Teixeira’s hefty salary after 2016?

I don’t have the answers to either question, but I can tell you that Teixeira’s performance in 2016 means as much to the future of the Yankees as it does to the upcoming season.

If Teixeira is not part of the equation in 2017, can the Yankees get something out of Dustin Ackley in the backup role now, where it convinces them he can hold the spot down for a full season in 2017? Ackley has been deemed the backup for 2016 even after Bird’s injury. What happens in 2017 with Ackley certainly depends a lot on how he performs in the role in 2016.

I’m not convinced Ackley is the answer. He’s had his share of success as a big league player, but he’s also had more issues than expected out of a former first round pick (second overall in 2009). He has played 22 games at first base on the major league level and last played there a significant amount of time in college. This is not college baseball. Ackley, who turns 28 at the end of this month, is considered a good athlete, so he might be able to handle it, but to assume he can just waltz into the role (on a very irregular basis in 2016, assuming Teixeira plays about 125 games) is not something I’m willing to hang my hat on.

If Teixeira doesn’t work out and/or the Yankees are not impressed with Ackley as a fulltime option, they could try to sign a stopgap first baseman for 2017, or someone to pair with Ackley. Again, this leads to the question of money, as first base was not an area the team figured to have to spend for some time. I have no idea who that person might be, but I can assure you that the Yankees would not want to spend a lot here.

I highly doubt the Yankees would invest in someone (other than Teixeira) for more than two years either. I suspect they hope Bird comes back healthy next spring, and by the middle of the season shows he can be the hitter they believed they had before the injury. At that point Bird either stays in Triple-A and continues to hone his game, or he is brought up because the initial 2017 option is simply not working out.

When Bird was lost for the season, it surely put a wrinkle in the plans for 2016. But on a grander scale, Bird’s absence and the uncertainty surrounding how he’ll perform upon his return in 2017 could be the bigger issue for the organization. And that’s one concern they didn’t imagine they’d have.

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 The Cauldron via Sports Illustrated, 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.