The Blue Jays have signed first baseman Greg Bird to a minor league contract, tweets Keegan Matheson of MLB.com. It’s the second minor league pact of the morning for the Jays, who also inked right-hander Joe Biagini not long ago. Bird wasn’t on a 40-man roster last year and became a minor league free agent at season’s end, thus allowing him to sign a minor league contract even during the MLB lockout.
Now 29 years old, Bird at one point looked like a potential long-term option for the division-rival Yankees at first base. He burst onto the scene in 2015 with a .261/.343/.529 slash for the Yanks, swatting 11 homers and nine doubles in just 178 plate appearances. As a former fifth-round pick who’d posted consistently excellent offensive numbers throughout his minor league contract, Bird looked quite promising.
Injuries, however, completely derailed his time with the Yankees. A torn labrum in his shoulder required surgery that cost him the entire 2016 season. He again captured the intrigue of Yankees fans when he ripped eight home runs in during 2017 Spring Training, but Bird fouled a ball off his ankle at the end of camp and quite literally limped through the first month of the season before hitting the injured list and undergoing surgery. That procedure removed the “os trigonum” bone from his ailing ankle. He returned in late August and again hit well down the stretch (.253/.316/.579, eight homers in 98 plate appearances).
Bird and the Yankees hoped the injuries could be put behind him for the 2018 season, but by the end of Spring Training that year, it became clear that the ankle was still an issue. He underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from that same surgically repaired ankle — a third surgery in three years — and spent the first six weeks of the year on the injured list. When healthy, Bird didn’t resemble his once-productive form, posting just a .199/.286/.386 batting line in 311 plate appearances. His 2019 campaign didn’t go any better, as he developed plantar fasciitis in his other foot and ultimately missing the majority of the season. The Yankees cut him loose following that 2019 campaign.
Bird has since signed with the Rangers and Rockies organizations, most recently spending the 2021 season with Colorado’s Triple-A affiliate, where he posted a .267/.362/.532 batting line with 27 home runs in 461 plate appearances. That was “only” about 17 percent better than league average, after accounting for the hitter-friendly setting (117 wRC+), but it was encouraging to see Bird produce well and remain healthy enough to appear in 112 games.
The Jays are obviously set with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base, and their deep outfield mix means they don’t necessarily have a need for a regular designated hitter. They’ve also been at least loosely connected to Freddie Freeman, and while that’s a long-shot fit, it’d only further reduce Bird’s chances of breaking through to the big league roster. That said, Bird is a perfectly sensible player to stash in Triple-A in the event of an injury, and if he hits well enough in Buffalo, the Jays can perhaps find a way to work his left-handed bat onto the roster in a part-time role.