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August 22, 2019

Yankees have tough roster decision to make with Greg Bird set to return

May 29, 2018

Barring some unexpected development, first baseman Greg Bird will be activated off the disabled list Saturday for the Yankees’ night game against the Angels at the Stadium.

Now the pressing question becomes: How will the Yankees make room on their active roster? As of Friday night, the answer remains unclear, and Aaron Boone said he, his coaching staff and management were still discussing the decision before their 2-1 series-opening win over the Angels.

There are several options. All of them have downsides.

The Yankees could option Tyler Austin to Triple-A, but he is second among American League rookies in homers (eight) and RBI (23). And Friday afternoon, Boone didn’t sound like he was prepared to demote Austin, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts Friday night.

Greg Bird is set to be activated, but it will leave the Yankees with a tough roster decision. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

“We’ll see,” Boone said when asked what the plan is for Austin with Bird’s impending return. “He’s been an impact performer for us. He’s a reason why we’re sitting here where we are with a strong record. He’s one of those guys that’s played a major role in that, and we expect that to continue throughout this year.”

The next possibility is moving on from Neil Walker. But that would require the Yankees designating the 32-year-old for assignment and effectively relinquishing an asset they could otherwise keep, say, if they option Austin. Not to mention, after a rough start to 2018, Walker is hitting .318 with six extra-base hits and eight RBI in May.

Austin has proven himself as a capable major-league hitter this season, and thus heading back to the minors would be difficult to swallow. But that may be the most viable option for the Yankees right now, especially after they released Adam Lind on Friday. Lind had been playing first base for the Triple-A Railriders.

Tyler Austin has been productive, but he has options that allow the Yankees to keep him in the minors if necessary.
Tyler Austin has been productive, but he has options that allow the Yankees to keep him in the minors if necessary. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

This is a delicate situation, to say the least.

“We try and be as transparent as we can and explain situations or our decisions to our guys the best we can,” Boone said. “A lot of times, those are difficult conversations that are the reality and the nature, sometimes, of this business. And when you are a part of a really good team, with a deep roster, those decisions can be even tougher and those conversations can be even harder, but are a part of the game. We do our best to try and communicate with our guys why we’re doing certain things and with the idea that we’re always trying to do what’s best for the Yankees.”

The final realistic option is sending down a reliever to open up a spot for Bird, shifting from eight to seven bullpen arms. But starting Friday, the Yankees are playing 14 games in 13 days, including a double-header on June 4, and they’ll need as many pitchers as possible for that stretch.

The Yankees could part with Neil Walker, but it would mean losing some organizational depth.
The Yankees could part with Neil Walker, but it would mean losing some organizational depth. (Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

“It’s something that we’ve had a lot of conversations about and are still mulling over,” Boone said of the roster move. “It leads to a difficult decision, not a simple one, not an obvious one, and something, frankly, we’re still kind of working through.”

Boone said the team considered activating Bird for Friday’s game. But with the Angels starting lefthander Andrew Heaney, the Yankees opted to wait another day. Bird played four games in four days in Triple-A from May 21 to 24. He went 4-for-16 with two homers and five RBI in the span. Bird hasn’t played this season after undergoing ankle surgery in March.

“He’s good to go. The reports have been really good. The at-bats have been good,” Boone said. “We feel like physically, timing-wise, all of those things, he’s in a pretty good place right now to be starting his season. … We feel like he’s as ready as he can be.”

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