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.
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