(Neil Miller / Sportsday Wire)
The Yankees announced on Monday afternoon that first baseman Greg Bird will undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair a right shoulder labrum tear and will miss the 2016 season. The injury is a reoccurrence of a right shoulder injury sustained in May of 2015.
The surgery will be performed by Dr. David Altchek at The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Bird made his major-league debut last August when Mark Teixeira went down for the season with a knee injury. He was an instant sensation, as hit .261 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI, and a .343 on-base percentage.
It was assumed that Teixeira would be the starter this season, entering the last year of his eight-year contract.
The 35-year old had big numbers last season, as he launched 31 home runs, had 70 RBI, and hit .255 with a .357 OBP.
The biggest question surrounding Teixeira – and this has been true for most of his time in pinstripes – is can they count on him to be healthy for an entire season?
The obvious choice to be the backup first baseman is Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees floated the possibility of Rodriguez playing first base throughout last season, but the process to move him over there from third was half-hearted at best.
Rodriguez barely did any work at first base in spring training, when he could spend hours learning the intricacies of the position.
The first time in his 21-year career that he played first came in April against the Red Sox to predictably dismal results, as he made multiple errors.
That was the end of the “A-Rod at first” story for a while, until the prospect of interleague play and games in National League parks came up in the final six weeks of the season. The Yankees didn’t like the idea of having to put their best hitter on the bench for series at Atlanta and against the Mets at Citi Field during a pennant race.
Before a game in Boston in late August, Rodriguez spent a little time practicing at first, and Manager Joe Girardi thought Rodriguez looked “uncomfortable” and shelved the idea.
Girardi’s dismissal of the idea so fast made no sense because anybody would look uncomfortable doing anything for the first time.
It also should not be forgotten that Rodriguez made a very successful move from shortstop to third base when he came to the Yankees in 2004. I’m sure he didn’t look too comfortable over there initially covering the line or making the longer throw to first, but he got it done in the long run.
The Yankees realize that they need to be very careful with the 40-year old Rodriguez and not put too much strain on his body.
However, limiting to designated hitter did not prevent him from hurting himself trying to hit an extra gear running to the plate in a September game against the Blue Jays.
Rodriguez has been working out in Miami this offseason with two former Olympians, hurdler Isa Phillips and sprinter Malachi Davis to improve his speed and agility.
Even though he has said he is accepting of just being a designated hitter, does he have the idea in the back of his mind of playing first, or even his old stomping grounds at third, in an emergency situation like the one this Bird injury has presented?
Rodriguez has shown a determination throughout his career, leading one to think he would put in the time in the field, especially in a case like this where there’s no other option as viable.
Having Rodriguez able to play at first means that Teixeira or outfielder Carlos Beltran can spend time at designated hitter to give them half-days off here and there.
Catcher Brian McCann has spent time at first base on off days to keep his bat in the lineup, but how many times can they realistically do that?
McCann, 31 years old, is not young either, and he pushed himself last season playing 135 games.
Having McCann play some first base provides flexibility in the lineup and how Girardi mixes and matches among the first base, designated hitter, and catching positions.
Speaking of catcher, the Yankees traded a reliable backup in John Ryan Murphy for center fielder Aaron Hicks. They are going to have rookie Gary Sanchez as the backup.
This means that McCann will likely have to play more at catcher than last season, at least in the early parts of the season as Sanchez eases in to the majors.
Girardi likes having versatile players that can serve many needs. So why not see if Rodriguez still has something left in the field?