NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — With Greg Bird expected to miss up to two months of the season due to ankle surgery, the Yankees are going to have to figure out how to get at least something serviceable out of the first base position.
The Bombers are expected to be an offensive juggernaut this season, what with slugging outfielders Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, catcher Gary Sanchez and impressive shortstop Didi Gregorius making up the heart of the lineup. Bird, too, figured to be a big player in the Yankees’ plans, before yet another injury messed with his standing with the club.
So who will hold down the fort until Bird returns?
The Yankees in all likelihood will employ a platoon of veteran Neil Walker and youngster Tyler Austin, at least initially.
Walker, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract a few weeks ago, is first and foremost a second baseman, but has the versatility to play both corner infield positions. Expect to see him in the lineup in some capacity on Thursday, when the Yankees open the regular season in Toronto. Heading into his 10th season, Walker, 32, is a career .272 hitter with 130 home runs and 522 RBIs.
If Walker does play first, it’s a good bet youngster Tyler Wade or veteran Ronald Torreyes, last year’s super sub, will start at second.
Austin remains one of the Yankees’ better prospects, but if not for a situation such as this he’d have a hard time playing with any regularity. He was recalled from Triple-A after it became clear Bird would miss some time.
“It’s not the way that you want to do it, but I’m definitely excited for the opportunity and to get a chance to play,” Austin said. “Just being on this team is special, so I’m excited.”
Austin hit .222. with four homers and six RBIs in 20 spring training games before being demoted. In 51 games over his two major league seasons, the 26-year-old slugger is hitting .236 with seven homers and 20 RBIs.
In addition, expect the Yankees to monitor the free agent market as teams finalize their rosters by the end of the week.