Greg Bird’s Lost Year [2016 Season Review]

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

This past season the Yankees started their youth movement in earnest. It kinda sorta began with the Greg Bird and Luis Severino call-ups last year, but it wasn’t until the team started trading veterans for prospects at the deadline that their direction was clear. The Yankees are going young, so much so that they’re moving productive veterans for kids in Single-A. It’s a whole new world.

Once again, the Yankees called up a bunch of young players in the second half this year, most notably Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Others like Tyler Austin and Luis Cessa were around too. So was Severino. The young guy who wasn’t around was Bird. The presumed first baseman of the future spent the entire 2016 season rehabbing from February surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The 2016 season was a lost season for Bird. He didn’t get to advance his career in any way, which stinks for a guy who would have played the entire season at age 23. That’s a crucial development year, especially after his successful MLB cameo last year. Let’s review Bird’s lost year and its big picture impact on the Yankees.

How Did He Get Hurt?

Bird hurt himself during an offseason workout, though the shoulder trouble was not new. He spent a month on the Double-A disabled list with a shoulder problem in the middle of the 2015 season. Apparently the shoulder was never really healthy the rest of the season. Bird admitted to not necessarily playing through pain, but playing through occasional discomfort. He hit those eleven homers in 46 games with the Yankees with a less than 100% shoulder.

The offseason workouts exacerbated the problem and led to the surgery. It was not one awkward movement or one exercise that caused it. This was a wear and tear injury. It started in Double-A and gradually got worse and worse. In February, the shoulder finally gave out and Bird needed surgery. Maybe the Yankees could have done something differently to keep Bird healthy. I have no idea. I’m no doctor. Won’t change anything now.

The Rehab

By all accounts Bird’s rehab went according to plan. His surgery came with an 8-9 month recovery timetable, which meant there was a chance he could return late the season, but the Yankees were never going to push it. Bird spent the summer rehabbing in Tampa and the rehab went well enough for him to get at-bats in Instructional League in September. That was our first indication Bird was getting better.

Following the stint in Instructs, the Yankees sent Bird to the Arizona Fall League for more playing time, where he hit .215/.346/.354 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 17 games and 78 plate appearances. I’m not worried too much about the statistical performance given the long layoff. Bird had to get his swing back. The most important thing is he made it through the AzFL healthy and didn’t miss a game. He was limited to DH because he hasn’t been cleared to throw at 100% effort yet, but everything else is going well. The rehab is right on track.

The Service Time Situation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bird spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list following the injury. I know he started last season in Double-A, but he was a big league ballplayer at the time of the injury. He played in the 2015 Wildcard Game, remember. Bird was a big leaguer when he got hurt and that means he spent the entire 2016 season on the disabled list collecting big league salary and service time. Good for him.

For the Yankees, it’s not so good. They lost one of Bird’s dirt cheap pre-arbitration years to injury. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2019 and eligible for free agency following the 2021 season, which is the same as it would have been had Bird been healthy and spent the entire year at first base and DH. Injuries are part of the game. They happen. It stinks when they happen to good young players when they are in the most cost effective years of their careers.

The Yankees Really Could Have Used Him

Geez, did the Yankees miss Bird this season or what? He hit .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games during his 2015 cameo, and last winter ZiPS pegged Bird for a .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) batting line with 26 homers in 2016. That would have been really useful! The Yankees got nothing from the first base and DH positions this past season. Bird would have been a huge, huge help. Enough to get them into the postseason? Doubtful. But enough to make them more competitive and fun to watch.

Outlook for 2017

Hitters who have surgery to repair a torn labrum in their front shoulder are known to lose pop for some length of time. Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp both had the same surgery as Bird and needed a year or so to get back to normal. On the other hand, Brian McCann had the same surgery while with the Braves in 2012, and he bounced back just fine in 2013. There was no short-term power loss.

The Yankees are hoping Bird follows the McCann path and not the Kemp/Gonzalez path. The good news is the timing of the injury is on their side. Bird is going to be a full year out from surgery by time Spring Training rolls around. McCann, Kemp, and Gonzalez all had surgery after the season and were racing against the clock to get ready for Opening Day. There are no such issues with Bird. He’ll have a nice long rehab.

Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Bird to grab the first base job in Spring Training and run with it. That would be ideal. I also think they’re prepared to send Bird to Triple-A should he need time to get back on track following surgery. There’s little doubt Bird is the first baseman of the future. That’s the plan. Is the first baseman of the present? The first few weeks back from shoulder surgery will determine that.

DotF: James Kaprielian returns in Arizona Fall League

One quick note before we get to tonight’s special edition of DotF: 1B Greg Bird is still technically rehabbing from his shoulder surgery, reports Randy Miller. Bird has not yet been cleared to throw, so he’s only going to DH in the Arizona Fall League for the time being. He takes ground balls before games but otherwise hasn’t been cleared to do anything more than lob throws at this point. “I’m just trying to become the best baseball player that I can. Right now this is a big step for me just getting healthy and getting at-bats,” he said.

AzFL Scottsdale (6-4 loss to Salt River)

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (missed catch) — no outfield for him just yet, but he’s supposed to see some time out there
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K — Eric Longenhagen says it was an opposite field home run Torres didn’t even fully square up … he’ll spend some time at second base out here … reminder: he doesn’t turn 20 until December
  • DH Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI — two games, three doubles
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-4, 1 R
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 29 of 40 pitches were strikes (73%) … this is his first official game action since April 21st due to a flexor tendon strain … Josh Norris says Kaprielian sat 95-97 with his fastball, 87-90 with his slider, and around 83 with his curveball … that’s where he was before the injury, so that’s great news … and yes, the James Kaprielian Watch in the sidebar will be updated during the AzFL
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 21 of 40 pitches were strikes (53%) … this is his first appearance since May 3rd due to an unknown injury … last year’s 17th rounder had a 1.85 ERA (2.81 FIP) in 34 innings before getting hurt

If you’re interested, and I know you are, here’s some video of RHP Dillon Tate’s outing yesterday. He struck out three in two innings and was reportedly 95-97 mph with his heater.

Cashman says young players have to earn roster spots in 2017 because of course they do

Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

To no surprise, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees will not simply hand their top young players roster spots next season. They’ll have to earn it. “May the best man win,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty recently when asked specifically about first base in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s retirement.

At this point it’s safe to say that yes, Gary Sanchez has earned his place on the 2017 Yankees. Not exactly going out on a limb here. He’s the only young guy who has forced the issue this season though. First base and right field are another matter, ditto the pitching staff. And the bench too, I suppose. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it all down.

1. Competition is good! There seems to be this sense that when you’re a rebuilding transitioning team, the best thing to do is throw the kids out there and let them sink or swim. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there comes a point when you have to run a young player out there everyday to help him develop, but handing players jobs? Nah. That should be reserved for the best of the best.

Besides, competition between young players is good and healthy. They push each other to get better and it helps foster that “be the best player you can be” mentality. That’s a good thing. “We want a team full of good players. That’s how we’re going to win games,” said Greg Bird to Kuty. “And that’s us competing or other people competing with each other makes us all better, than that’s what we want.”

2. There’s a wide range of outcomes at first base. A year ago at this time we were all thrilled about the future at first base, the same way we’re thrilled about the future at catcher right now. Bird burst onto the scene and played very well down the stretch last season. He wasn’t Sanchez, but he was pretty awesome. The Yankees really missed Bird this year. He would have helped at first base and DH big time.

Bird’s shoulder injury has created some questions about next season. How healthy will he be? How quickly will he be back at full strength? Will he ever get back to full strength? Bird told Kuty his shoulder feels great — “It’s stronger than what it was and it’s structurally sound now,” he said — and he’ll soon face live pitching in Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League, but until he gets out there everyday, we just can’t know what he’s capable of. This was a major injury.

With any luck, Bird will come back and pick up right where he left off last season, giving the Yankees a no-doubt answer at first base. There’s a chance he may need time at Triple-A to shake off the rust, however, in which case Tyler Austin becomes Plan A at first base. I guess? Austin or Rob Refsnyder. Maybe Brian McCann or Austin Romine? First base could be really good or really bad next season. Bird could rake or the Yankees could end up cycling through players all year in an effort to find a solution.

Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Right field seems wide open. Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m guessing they’d tell you they want Aaron Judge to take the right field job in Spring Training and run with it. Of their in-house options, he has the best chance to become a middle of the order bat one day. “He will have to earn his way on to next year’s roster. There are no absolutes. Without question, he’ll be better for the experience,” said Cashman to Andrew Marchand.

Judge struggled to make contact this season and he’s losing reps now due to the oblique injury, which stinks. That’s valuable development time, even if it is only three weeks. His primary competition figures to be Austin, Refsnyder, Aaron Hicks, and Mason Williams. And you know what? The right field job could fall on two players via platoon or some kind of time share. It would be awesome if Judge won the job. I feel like anything could happen in right field though. Hicks everyday, a Williams/Austin platoon, whatever.

4. A veteran backup plan feels like a must. The Yankees have brought in a veteran bench player to cover first base and right field the last two years, and it didn’t work either time. Garrett Jones didn’t hit last year and Dustin Ackley blew out his shoulder this year. Neither played all that much either because the Yankees had pricey veterans in the lineup. It was a smart use of a roster spot that didn’t work out.

Since the Yankees are poised to go young at first base and in right field next year, bringing in a veteran backup plan for depth again makes sense, and this time at-bats should be easier to come by. Veterans like Teixeira and Carlos Beltran get the benefit of the doubt and stay in the lineup no matter what. A struggling kid could see a little more time in the bench just to get a mental break now and then.

We can sort through potential candidates for this role in the offseason — I’ll be beating the Steve Pearce drum this winter, so get ready for it (yes I know he’s having elbow surgery) — though it’s worth noting the Yankees have some options for this role themselves. Perfect world scenario is what, Bird at first and Judge in right with Austin and/or Refsnyder backing up both positions? I guess so, but a little veteran depth to protect against a Bird setback/Judge whiff-fest would be nice.

5. Severino shouldn’t be guaranteed anything. Competition for a rotation spot or a few bullpen spots is nothing new. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees didn’t have some pitching spots up for grabs in camp. I’m sure that’ll be true next year as well. Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell could all wind up competing for the fifth starter’s job, for example. That would be ideal, really.

Luis Severino presents an interesting case. He got hammered as a starter this season in two separate stints, but he’s also dominated out of the bullpen. The Yankees insist they don’t want to give up on him as a starter because he’s still so young and I believe them. But, because he was so bad a starter this season and lost feel for his changeup, Severino shouldn’t come to camp with a rotation spot locked up like he did this year. He should have to earn it like everyone else.

Severino is in the bullpen right now because he gives the Yankees the best chance to win. That’s all there is to it. He hasn’t thrown his changeup much in relief — seven of his 200 pitches this month have been changeups, so yeah — and that’s kind of a problem. His development as a starting pitcher should be the priority in 2017. If that means more time in Triple-A, so be it. Severino shouldn’t be handed a spot just because. That would be a mistake.

Game 136: Blue Jays on Labor Day

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

This afternoon the Yankees start a ten-game homestand against three teams they aren’t chasing in the standings. Well, technically they are chasing the Blue Jays, but the AL East title is out of reach at this point. The Yankees have to focus on the second wildcard spot. One thing at a time.

The Blue Jays have owned the Yankees since the second half of last season. It’s not even funny anymore. They’re 18-7 against New York since last year’s trade deadline, including 10-3 at Yankee Stadium, and good gravy is that capital-A Annoying. The only way the Yankees can get to the postseason this year is by putting an end to that. They have seven games left with Toronto and they have to start beating them. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 3B Chase Headley
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. DH Austin Romine
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s a little cloudy in New York today but otherwise the weather is really nice. Temperatures in the low-80s and no humidity. Nice afternoon to spend at the park. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (shoulder) has joined the Yankees but he won’t be activated. He’s going to rehab with the team rather than in Tampa. Bird threw in the outfield and took swings in the batting cage for the first time since surgery today. He’ll face live pitching in Instructional League later this month before heading to the Arizona Fall League.

Rotation Update: Joe Girardi said the plan right now is to replaced the injured Chad Green with a bullpen day on Wednesday. There are eleven relievers in the bullpen right now, plus the Yankees could always call up more now that rosters expanded, so innings won’t be a problem. Will they be quality innings? That’s a very different question.

Update: Yankees sending Andujar, Bird, Torres, Wade, and Koerner to the Arizona Fall League

Bird is the word. (Presswire)
Bird is the word. (Presswire)

4:28pm: The rosters have been officially announced. The Yankees are sending RHP Brody Koerner to the AzFL in addition to Bird, Torres, Andujar, and Wade. They have three pitching spots listed as TBA. Wade is listed as an outfielder, so that’s interesting.

2:30pm: According to Josh Norris, the Yankees are sending first baseman Greg Bird to the Arizona Fall League this season. I imagine this is still a tentative assignment, but it does suggest Bird’s rehab from shoulder surgery is going well. The Yankees wouldn’t plan on sending him to the AzFL if there was serious concern he wouldn’t be ready in time.

Bird, 23, has missed the entire season after having shoulder surgery in February. He had a shoulder injury in the minors last year, raked during his second half cameo with the Yankees, then re-injured the shoulder during an offseason workout. Given how poorly Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez hit this year, the Yankees really missed Bird this summer.

This will be Bird’s second AzFL stint, though the circumstances are very different. He’s a rehabbing player now. Two years ago he was a prospect getting extra at-bats. Bird hit .313/.391/.556 (176 wRC+) with six homers in 26 games during his first AzFL stint. He was named the league’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, then made his MLB debut a few months later.

Norris says the Yankees are also sending third baseman Miguel Andujar and shortstops Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade to the desert as well. All three are among the clubs better prospects and the Yankees are sending them to the desert for extra at-bats. Andujar is Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I imagine the team will use the AzFL stint to further evaluate him and make their 40-man roster decision.

The Yankees still have 3-4 pitching spots to fill and it could be a while before those are announced. James Kaprielian would be an ideal candidate if he gets healthy in time, though I doubt the Yankees will rush him back from a flexor injury. AzFL pitching assignments tend to be boring. Most top pitching prospects are already bumping up against their innings limit, so there are a lot of third and four tier pitching prospects in the league.

The AzFL season begins on Tuesday, October 11th, and runs through Thursday, November 17th. Yankees prospects will suit up for the Scottsdale Scorpions this year. They’ll be on a team with Phillies, Angels, Giants, and Mets prospects. There will be days Scottsdale has an all-Yankees infield. Pretty cool.

The Yankees have moved on from some veterans, and now they’re way more fun and interesting

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night’s 1-0 win over the Blue Jays was very much a nail-biter. The Yankees have 61 wins this season and not too many of them have been stress-free. This team doesn’t do blowouts. Not this year. So of course the Blue Jays were able to put the tying run on third base in the ninth inning. The Yankees had to sweat right up until the final out, and when it was all said and done, they won for the ninth time in 14 games since the trade deadline.

That trade deadline was a momentous day (or series of days) for the Yankees. They sold for the first time in nearly three decades, sending away three productive veterans (and Ivan Nova) for 12 total prospects (and Adam Warren). I don’t think many folks thought the Yankees would actually go through with the sell-off even though it was clearly in the best interests of the franchise long-term. It had to be done.

In many cases, once a team trades away productive veterans for prospects at the deadline, they slip back in the standings and really wear it the rest of the season. Not many teams sell and improve in the second half. Those seem like conflicting ideas. Usually it’s one or the other. Not both. It’s a little early to say the Yankees have improved since the trade deadline, but you know what? They are way more fun and interesting. I have zero doubts about that.

It’s all because of the young players. The Carlos Beltran trade has cleared the way for Aaron Judge, who is the first Yankee ever to record an extra-base hit in his first three career games. The first guy to do that in franchise history. Insane. Gary Sanchez has been up for close to two weeks and he’s been mashing. Judge and Sanchez recently hit balls a combined 900 feet or so for their first career home runs. It was incredible.


There’s also Tyler Austin and Chad Green, who have had their moments as well. Austin homered in his first MLB at-bat and Green shoved against the Blue Jays last night. Eleven strikeouts in six scoreless innings against that lineup? Amazing. Warren is back and that’s fun too. So is Aaron Hicks performing well since the deadline. About the only negative lately has been Luis Severino‘s two bad starts.

The Yankees had to make some tough decisions these last few weeks to make this all possible. Selling at the deadline was no doubt a difficult call for ownership. The team also pushed Alex Rodriguez out the door and ate the $25M or so left on his contract to get these young guys in the lineup. Brian McCann has not been completely benched, but his playing time has been reduced. Mark Teixeira‘s too. You think Joe Girardi wants to do that to those guys? Of course not. But it’s for the best.

Right now the Yankees are 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 4.1% as of this writing. I have no idea whether this team can rally and get back in the thick of the playoff race. Probably not. The odds are stacked against them. I do know the Yankees have made smart moves designed to improve the franchise long-term, and I do know they’ve called up several exciting young players recently.

Judge’s and Sanchez’s at-bats are must see television right now. Same with Austin. As great as Beltran was this season, watching Judge is far more enjoyable, at least to me. Watching Sanchez and Austin is infinitely more exciting than watching A-Rod and Teixeira, and that’s coming from a huge A-Rod fan. It’s certainly helped that the Yankees have been winning and the young guys have produced right away. No doubt about it.

Now, that said, this would all still be really fun even if the Yankees were losing and the young guys were struggling because of what we hope this represents: the next great era of Yankees baseball. Judge and Sanchez are potential cornerstone pieces. They might hit third and fourth for the next decade. Or third and fifth with Greg Bird fourth. Austin, Green, and Severino are trying to force their way into the long-term mix too. There’s others like Ben Heller and Luis Cessa as well, and even more in Triple-A.

It has been a very, very long time since the Yankees last had this much young talent on their big league roster. Not since the mid-1990s, really. That’s not a Core Five comparison. That’s just a statement of fact. The Yankees have spent the last few years toeing the line between contention and mediocrity, and they’ve finally made moves geared towards improving the future. This is all new to a lot of us, and gosh, is it fun or what?

Game 109: Win it for Teixeira

Earlier today Mark Teixeira announced he will be retiring after the season, and I have to say, I was surprisingly bummed out about that. Despite all the injuries and ground balls into the shift, Teixeira was a really productive player and a likeable guy. He was also a key piece of the Yankees’ most recent World Series title. That’s a pretty big deal.

Teixeira called the Yankees a “team in transition” during his press conference this afternoon and that defines the club perfectly. They’re transitioning out of the Teixeira/Alex Rodriguez/CC Sabathia era and into something new. What? We don’t know exactly. Hopefully the Clint Frazier/Gary Sanchez/Luis Severino era. Until then, how about winning some ballgames and sending Teixeira out on a high note? That sounds cool. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. SS Starlin Castro
  7. C Gary Sanchez
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Michael Pineda

Not the greatest weather in New York today, but it’s good enough. There’s rain in the forecast overnight and into tomorrow, so it’s pretty sticky outside. Tonight’s series opener with the Indians is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and it’ll be broadcast on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (shoulder) has been doing all sorts of baseball activities (swinging, throwing, etc.) and he may be healthy enough in time to play in the Arizona Fall League, Joe Girardi said. The Yankees aren’t going to push him, but he’s progressing well.