Red Sox

Greg Bird once looked like future of Yankees, but now he might fit with Red Sox

Greg Bird once looked like future of Yankees, but now he might fit with Red Sox

He's the original Baby Bomber, and he briefly appeared as indispensable as Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Then injuries intervened, and so now we're left to wonder: could Greg Bird be a buy-low target of the Red Sox?

The former Yankees first baseman cleared waivers and elected to become a free agent on Thanksgiving eve rather than accept a demotion to Triple A.

Four years after taking New York by storm, Bird is now a man without a team, but there are reasons to give him a look.

He arrived with a bang in 2015 at the tender age of 22, slamming 11 homers in just 46 games in relief of Mark Teixeira, beating Sanchez and Judge to the big leagues in the process. Yankees fans daydreamed about his sweet left-handed swing assaulting the short porch in right for a decade.

Then came injuries — lots of injuries. A torn labrum sidelined him for 2016, and foot and ankle maladies have limited him to 142 games since. He has barely produced above a whimper in that time, hitting just .194, including 10 worthless games last season.

And yet . . . when Bird got healthy at the end of 2017, he produced in the postseason. His solo homer off Andrew Miller accounted for the only run in Game 3 of the Division Series, propelling the Yankees from a 2-0 deficit and into the ALCS, where two more Bird homers helped push the eventual champion Astros to seven games.

During that series, the New York Post noted, the Astros considered Bird as dangerous as anyone in the Yankees lineup, and he ended up walking eight times. When healthy, there's a reason Bird drew comparisons to former Yankees first baseman Nick Johnson, because he combined some power with a high on base percentage from the left side. Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was enamored with Johnson, who could never stay healthy, either.

There was an exception, however, as the Post also noted. In Johnson's age 27 season, he finally put it all together for the Nationals in 2006, hitting .290 with 23 homers and a .948 OPS in a career-high 147 games. He'd miss the entire 2007 season and spend the rest of his career bouncing on and off the disabled list, but for that one prime year, he delivered the goods.

Bird just turned 27 and has the minor-league track record (.396 OBP) to suggest that if he ever overcomes his injuries, he could pay off as a low-cost, low-risk flier. With the Red Sox looking to slash payroll and openings existing all over the diamond, they're going to have to hit on players like Bird to contend while cutting costs.

As of now, the depth chart at first base isn't particularly deep. Slugging Michael Chavis is one option, but he could also end up playing second base, and he won't be a viable full-timer anywhere until he addresses the hole in his swing above the belt. Youngster Sam Travis is another, but he has done nothing to distinguish himself in parts of three seasons. Then there's prospect Bobby Dalbec, who has appeared in just 30 games at Triple A and still represents an unknown.

A high on-base player with durability issues excelling at age 27 wouldn't be unprecedented. Cleveland's Travis Hafner began a run of four straight 100-RBI seasons at that age before breaking down. Rangers utilityman Frank Catalanotto nearly won a batting title in 2001. Old friend Dave Magadan hit a career-high .328 and earned MVP votes with the Mets in 1990.

The odds may be low, but so is the risk. And those are the kind of players the Red Sox are going to have to target this winter.

MLB's Top free agent infielders this offseason>>>>>

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Top prospect Triston Casas is quite literally growing on the Red Sox

Top prospect Triston Casas is quite literally growing on the Red Sox

The Red Sox drafted Triston Casas as the rare high schooler who already possessed big-league size at an imposing 6-foot-4, 238 pounds.

It turns out he's still growing.

The team's top prospect recently stopped by Fenway Park, and the team's first order of business should be updating his bio.

Not only has Casas added bulk, but he's taller, too. A week after his 20th birthday, Casas now stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds. To put this in perspective, he's only an inch shorter and already 10 pounds heavier than Yankees behemoth Giancarlo Stanton. If he's got any growing left in him, he could rival Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, all 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds of him.

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"I just turned 20, so I'm still growing into my body," Casas said. "I'm not putting any limits on my size. I'm not sure how much more I might grow. It's been weight training, nutrition, a combination of a lot of things. It's mostly natural. It's my genes. There's no secret formula for it."

Casas noted that his father is also 6-5 — "he's a little bigger than me in terms of roundness" — and that his mom stands about 5-9, "so she's not tiny."

Good genes are only half the battle, though, and Casas is proving himself to be the team's most exciting prospect. The first baseman recently checked in at No. 70 on Baseball America's top 100 list, making him the highest-ranked Red Sox farmhand, five spots ahead of Bobby Dalbec.

He put up numbers at two levels of A ball last year that certainly jump off the page for a 19-year-old, hitting .256 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs in what was effectively his pro debut. Drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Plantation, Fla., Casas tore a thumb ligament just two games into his career at short-season Lowell, necessitating season-ending surgery.

He returned in 2019 and got off to a slow start at Low-A Greenville before taking flight. Hitting just .208 through April with 31 strikeouts and only two homers in 22 games, Casas hit. 267 with 18 homers and an .870 OPS thereafter, striking out a more manageable 87 times in 98 games.

"Once you get in that 450-500 at-bat level of the season, it starts to get a little comfortable," Casas said. "I felt like I was having my best at-bats in August, and when the season ended, I was a little disappointed that we didn't have another month left. I'm looking to build on that momentum and bring it into the season."

Casas finished third in the South Atlantic League with 19 homers (he added his 20th during a September cameo with High-A Salem), and no other teenager cracked the top 10. He joined Xander Bogaerts and Tony Conigliaro as the only Red Sox teenagers to hit 20 homers at any level since 1960.

All of that slugging made him the unanimous No. 1 prospect in the organization, with his smooth left-handed swing drawing comparisons to Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman.

"I'm more on the side of ignoring all of it," Casas said of the plaudits. "I try to live with the satisfaction that I'm happy with myself, and the numbers I'm putting up are a product of the work I'm putting in. I feel like there are a lot of improvements that need to be done, because I don't feel like I had my best season."

He was lucky enough to grow up near Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, a fellow graduate of Heritage High School. Hosmer has served as a mentor for years, though Casas likes the idea of closing the student-teacher gap as he gets closer to the big leagues himself.

"I've talked to him a couple of times this offseason, a little more often now that I've signed, just because we have a little bit more compatibility and we're a little more relatable to each other," Casas said. "He's a really good mentor. He's kind of like the first big leaguer I've ever talked to, growing up, he's in the area and I don't know if he's always felt the need to take me under his wing, but same high school, same area, he's been really beneficial to my career."

If there's a player Casas admires, it's Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Despite his natural power, Casas chokes up like Votto, especially with two strikes, "where I'm way up on the pine tar."

"I emulate Joey Votto as much as I can," Casas said. "He's my favorite player."

He won't be Votto until he limits the strikeouts. He ruefully noted that he recorded more K's (116) than hits (107) in 2019.

"That was a very concerning stat for me," he said. "That's something I got back in the cage and focused on. I feel like it has a lot to do with your mentality stepping into the box, being ready to hit right from the first pitch. But it's something that I learned from last year. Last year was a big learning experience, so I'll look to build on it this year."

Casas hopes to build, and maybe he'll continue to grow, too. Whatever happens, he knows this much: he's not in the game simply to be a highly regarded prospect.

"To be recognized by a lot of people as the Red Sox' best minor-league player or hitter, it's really nice," he said. "But at the end of the day, I don't want to be a minor league player."

Pedro Martinez pays tribute to David Ortiz on anniversary of his Red Sox signing

Pedro Martinez pays tribute to David Ortiz on anniversary of his Red Sox signing

The Boston Red Sox franchise changed forever on this day 17 years ago.

The Sox signed free agent slugger David Ortiz on Jan. 23, 2003. Ortiz had just finished his sixth season with the Minnesota Twins, during which he batted .272 with 20 home runs and 72 RBI. The Twins chose not to keep him, and this colossally foolish decision turned out to be a massive gain for Boston.

Ortiz would go on to lead the Red Sox to three World Series championships, with many clutch hits and memorable moments along the way.

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Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez played a pivotal role in the team adding Ortiz in 2003, and he celebrated the anniversary of Big Papi's signing with a special tweet Thursday.

Ortiz will join Martinez in the Red Sox Hall of Fame later this year. When eligible, he deserves to join Martinez in the Baseball Hall of Fame as well.

Two Red Sox players made Baseball America's top 100 prospects ranking