I guess I won’t have to waste a million words this season writing about how Greg Bird should be the Yankees’ starting first baseman over Mark Teixeira even though Teixeira will make $23 million this year. Now I just have to hope I don’t waste a million words next season once again longing for Bird to be the Yankees’ starting first baseman. I will spend the next year desperately hoping for 2015 Greg Bird to show up in 2017, completely fixed from his shoulder surgery and not suffering any setbacks, and not skipping a beat from the last time we saw him on the field in the wild-card game.
There’s a chance Bird won’t be ready for 2017 and there’s a chance he won’t be as productive as he once was and there’s a chance he won’t be able to be the first baseman of the future. The Yankees aren’t about to go into 2017 without an insurance policy at first base and that most likely means Mark Teixeira won’t have to move from Greenwich anytime soon. Aside from the actual problem of Bird being originally told to rest and rehab his shoulder and now he will miss the entire season after surgery, the other here is that Bird’s absence sets up a potential terrible chain reaction. Like a 75-yard chain of dominoes built during indoor recess due to inclement weather, if the dominoes start to fall, we’ll be looking at 2013 and 2014 all over again. Actually, we might be longing for the days of 2013 and 2014.
With the Yankees’ recent luck of injuries, I can easily see Teixeira spending the majority of the season on the disabled list (and you know if Bird were healthy, Teixeira wouldn’t get hurt all season, but be unproductive, while Bird raked in Triple-A), which would make Dustin Ackley the Yankees’ everyday first baseman. Between Ackley at first and Chase Headley at third, the Yankees will have two non-power hitters in two spots that, which need power. In that scenario, and with Brett Gardner in left field, the Yankees’ lone corner power hitter would be Carlos Beltran, and counting on the soon-to-be 39-year-old to not only contribute the way he should at $15 million, but also stay healthy isn’t exactly assuring. The Yankees could get by if they had a power hitter in a non-traditional power spot, like say second base, but they no longer have that luxury. Sure, this isn’t exactly the most positive line of thinking, but when your 23-year-old first baseman of the future goes down for the season, and you’re now desperately relying on your 31-year-old catcher (will be 32 on Feb. 20), 35-year-old first baseman (will be 36 on April 11), 38-year-old right fielder (will be 39 on April 24) and 40-year-old designated hitter (will be 41 on July 27) to not only stay healthy, but be productive, it’s important to think about the worst-case scenarios.
You might think this is overreacting to an injury to a player that was going to start the season in Triple-A, if Teixeira were to remain healthy come Opening Day, but it’s not. Bird was going to play a role for the Yankees this season even if Brian Cashman wants to pretend like you can suddenly bet on Teixeira’s health like he’s American Pharoah at Churchill Downs. And without Greg Bird last season, the Yankees don’t make the playoffs. They won a wild-card berth by two games and won home-field in the wild-card by one game on the last day of the season thanks to an Astros loss (not that it mattered). Take away Bird’s performance, while in for Teixeira and the Yankees would have been postseason-less for three straight years (even though it’s basically like they were).
Bird seamlessly fit in for Teixeira when he went down with a bone bruise, which turned out to be a broken leg, and was as good, if not better than Teixeira, giving the Yankees their first promising look into the future for a position player since Robinson Cano debuted in 2005. Bird hit .261/.343/.529 in 178 plate appearances, while Teixeira hit .255/.357/.548 in 462 plate appearances. Combine their power and they hit 41 home runs with 110 RBIs. Together, Mark Teixeira and Greg Bird were a Top 3 AL MVP finalist.
Teixeira played 111 games last year. He played 123 games in 2014. He played 15 games in 2013. He played 123 games in 2012. In the last few years, he has missed time due to wrist surgery, pain and discomfort from that wrist surgery, a pulled hamstring, injuries to his rib cage and knee and lat, tired legs from being on the bases(!), light-headedness and an injury to his pinky sliding into home. There’s a 100 percent chance Teixeira misses time this year either due to an actual injury or something comical like having tired legs from being on the bases. This is the guy that complained about the length of playing baseball games in Sept. 2011, saying, “I can’t stand playing a nine-inning game in four hours. It’s not baseball. I don’t even know how to describe it.” This is a guy who has made $189.9 million in his life playing the game he doesn’t know how to describe and will make another $23.125 million this season. You can guarantee he’s going to get hurt this season.
Last season, we got a glimpse into the future of a real prospect for the first time in 10-plus years, and it’s been taken away. Greg Bird was the future at first base for the Yankees. Now, we need to hope he still is.