While the Marlins were busy designating Wei-Yin Chen for assignment to make way for top prospects on the 40-man roster, the Yankees were doing the same thing. In order to add seven minor leaguers to their 40-man, New York released outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and DFA'd first baseman Greg Bird. Whereas Chen and Ellsbury are certain to be released, there may be more competition to claim Bird, formerly a top prospect who’s still on the right side of 30.
Interestingly, the lefty-swinging slugger has a couple key allies with the Marlins: Gary Denbo and James Rowson.
Greg Bird was DFA'd by the Yankees. Marlins exec Gary Denbo and new bench coach James Rowson both worked hands-on with Bird in the minors when he was emerging as a big-time prospect.— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) November 21, 2019
To make it clear, this would not be big-time, headline news, but it would be an intriguing pick-up nonetheless.
For those of you who are unaware, Greg Bird’s journey bears some resemblance to Lewis Brinson’s, although the circumstances of his struggles are somewhat different than the Marlins outfielder. Bird was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of high school, and despite only previously appearing in 32 Rookie League and Short Season A games between 2011 and 2012, hit .288 with 20 homers and 84 RBIs across 130 games at Class-A Charleston in 2013. In 2014, he produced a slash line of .271/.376/.472 across High-A and Double-A, and was then named MVP of the Arizona Fall League after hitting six home runs and driving in 21 in 26 games. That performance landed him on some of the top prospects lists shortly thereafter.
Fast-forwarding to August 2015, Bird was making his debut in the Bronx. Through 46 games the 6-4 lefty hit .261 with 11 home runs, announcing himself as a potential successor to Mark Teixeira. However, that's when things started to fall apart for Bird. Offseason shoulder surgery forced him to miss all of the 2016 campaign, and various ankle and foot injuries have led to only 173 appearances across all levels since 2017. The inconsistent playing time has not helped Bird reach his potential, as he is a career .211 hitter with 32 homers over 186 MLB games.
Bird’s go-ahead solo shot against the Indians in ALDS Game 3 has been one of his only post-rookie highlights.
Having only turned 27 years old less than two weeks ago, Bird could still offer some value if he is able to stay healthy and get consistent reps. For a team like the Marlins who are looking to add corner infield depth, acquiring Bird could end up being a savvy move. I argued last week that Miami should trust Garrett Cooper with starting at first base over a possible free agent signing, and that still stands. But if they are going to add a back-up or platoon option, Bird makes more sense than a veteran without much gas left in the tank, such as Justin Smoak. The Marlins may even be able to get Bird on a minor league deal, considering his history, making him a potential low-risk, high-reward signing.
If the Marlins signed Greg Bird, the worst-case scenario would be that he either under-performs or cannot stay healthy, in which case the team would either have to heavily rely on Garrett Cooper or promote prospect Lewin Díaz earlier than anticipated. With all three of Bird’s minor league options intact, the club would have the flexibility to move him to Triple-A Wichita if necessary without giving up on him. The best-case scenario would be that Bird hits like he did as a rookie or even better, forces himself into a battle with Cooper for the starting role, and both players elevate their play as a result.
Of every available first baseman, Greg Bird is probably the biggest unknown. What is known, however, is that both Gary Denbo and James Rowson will be lobbying the front office to acquire him if they think they can still unlock his true potential.