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Analysis

Greg Bird Can Be the X-Factor in the Yankees Lineup

It is unsure what Greg Bird’s role will be with the Yankees in 2018, but if healthy he has the potential to be one of the best in the lineup.

Earlier Saturday, news broke that Yankee first baseman Greg Bird was kept out of split squad action against the Atlanta Braves due to a “sore right foot.” He will receive an MRI and CT scan to determine the extent of the injury, which served as another blemish to an already frustrating spring training for the lefty infielder, desperate to join the power brigade in the Bronx and continue his promising turn from last October.

Only a year ago did Bird lead the Grapefruit League in homers (8, tied with Bryce Harper), extra-base hits (16), on-base percentage (.556), slugging percentage (1.098), and OPS (1.654), only to go down May 2 with a bruised ankle that decimated his 2017 campaign. This came on the heels of Bird’s missing the entire 2016 season while recuperating from surgery on a torn labrum in his shoulder.

After a stellar rookie tenure in 2015, in which Bird hit 11 homers with 31 RBIs in 147 at-bats down the stretch after an August 13 call-up, the first baseman looked primed to take New York by the reins and usher in a youth movement in the Bronx well before Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge collectively turned heads in 2016 and 2017.

Alas, injuries have defined a turbulent career through which Bird has logged only 94 games at the major league level across two and a half seasons.

While a combination of players like Neil Walker, Tyler Austin, and Tyler Wade can potentially man Bird’s position for the length of a yet-to-be determined absence, the Yankees will sorely miss a left handed power bat, one of a mere few lefties outside of Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner down a lineup that is heavy on righties.

In the midst of the Yankees’ postseason run in 2017, Bird struck one of the mightiest homers in recent pinstriped memory, launching a shot off reliever Andrew Miller, who had only yielded four home runs to lefties since 2015 to that point. The blast was all New York needed in a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians to cut their series in the ALDS, one New York would eventually win in five games after mounting an 0-2 deficit, 2-1. For essentially the first the first time since their 2009 World Series run, the new Stadium was alive and Greg Bird was the man responsible. In that moment, he was building what seemed the stuff of legends and awakening the echoes of that blend of “Yankee mystique” that defined the Joe Torre era.

This offseason, after acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, only to later land Walker and Brandon Drury, with top prospect Gleyber Torres set to return from Tommy John surgery and Miguel Andujar demonstrating a willful tendency for power this spring, the Yankee lineup was assured tremendous depth and pop, especially with a committed and determined Bird added to the mix.

Unfortunately, the most recent ailment to a growing litany of them puts things on hold for the Yankees to reach their fullest potential without a healthy and invigorated Bird in the lineup.

A combination of Mark Teixeira and Bird’s injury woes has fashioned a question mark at their position for three, potentially going on four years, a quandary that amounts to frustration for a club looking to return to the Fall Classic for the first time in nine seasons, more so considering the failed Chris Carter experiment in the early stretches of 2017.

With Don Mattingly, Tino Martinez, Jason Giambi, and Teixeira featuring consecutively in pinstripes at first base for over three decades, the position has been capably manned by power (all the aforementioned) and defense (Mattingly and Teixeira, with 12 Gold Gloves in New York between them), and given Tex’s departure after the 2016 season, first base has been waiting for Greg Bird to man it, something he certainly can manage when injuries do not hinder him.

Bird’s second half in 2017 was a promising foundation to build upon: he sustained a modest triple slash line of .253/.316/.575 with 8 homers and 25 RBI in 87 at-bats, a far cry in comparison to his abysmal numbers (.100/.250/.200 in 60 at-bats) in 2017’s first half. Even so, before Bird’s flare up in his foot, he was only hitting .154 this spring with a .497 OPS in 54 at-bats with only one homer, a discouraging sign if ever there was one in Bird’s tumultuous time in pinstripes.

Regardless of his peaks-and-valleys production line, Bird can be an X-factor in a lineup of relatively sure things. An MRI revealing minimal to no damage would be a promising sign in the way of Bird’s firmly grasping the first base slot on the diamond as unequivocally his own. If not, then New York will be forced to look at first base, the surest position the organization has held since the early ’80s, as a true position of doubt and concern.

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