NEW YORK -- On the surface, Greg Bird's season-ending shoulder injury could be looked upon as a potential spare 2016 part gone missing. But Bird's torn labrum cracks at the core of the Yankees' future plans and demonstrates, before even a pitch has been thrown or a swing has been taken in the warm spring air of Tampa, how fragile a transition this multibillion organization is attempting.
Bird, 23, is one of the Big 3 the Yankees hope is on the cusp of Bronx stardom. He, Luis Severino and Triple-A prospect Aaron Judge are three parts of a potential new Core Four.
It still might happen. Bird's injury, a torn labrum in his right shoulder, often means doom for a pitcher. Bird, however, is a first baseman with a keen eye and a swing built for the right field porch at Yankee Stadium. He hit 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs in 46 games as a rookie.
If you pro-rated that over 150 games, it would add up to about 35 homers and 100 RBIs. He is still the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira and may be perfectly fine when he returns in 2017.
The plan, though, is not as clear as it was before the Yankees diagnosed Bird's injury. The idea -- though never officially acknowledged by the Yankees -- was that Teixeira would finish out his eight-year, $180 million contract this season, the Yankees would thank him for his services and Teixeira would leave the keys to the first base office for Bird.
The Yankees want to become younger and create more flexibility in their payroll. By shedding Teixeira's $23 million salary, the Yankees had a replacement ready to play at the league minimum. In theory, they could then use their financial might to improve other areas of the club.
Teixeira now has an opening to extend his stay as a Yankee. Before fracturing his shin last season, Teixeira was having a renaissance season, hitting .255 with 31 homers and 79 RBIs. He has made it clear that while he has gone gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free, he has no plans to go baseball-free. At 36 in April, Teixeira has no desire to retire anytime soon.
If Bird were to play this year, not only would the Yankees have a strong backup for Teixeira and A-Rod, but they would have a better idea if Bird is the next Don Mattingly or the next Kevin Maas.
Bird is still part of the Yankees' future, but, as the old baseball saying goes, being a prospect means you haven't done anything yet. Bird did some things last year. He showed top-level skill at the plate, combined with a maturity that made him seem like a perfect fit for the Bronx stage.
But even the Core Four needed some luck. The legendary Gene Michael blocked George Steinbrenner from trading Rivera to Seattle for shortstop Felix Fermin. The Yankees stuck with Jeter despite 56 errors in a minor league season. Pettitte's supposedly suspect left elbow held together until he became a free agent. Posada successfully transitioned from second base to catcher. Add in Bernie Williams, and even for the Yankees, it might've been a once-in-a-lifetime sort of coup.
The new, potential Core Four has plenty of question marks. Severino looked like a future ace, but has just 11 big-league starts under his belt. Judge, all 6-foot-7, nearly 300 pounds of him, is trying to be a rare success at his size in the outfield. The Yankees have some other possible major leaguers, maybe even standouts, in shortstop Jorge Mateo and catcher Gary Sanchez, but they still need to develop.
Bird, with luck not on his side, will lose a year, which is a crack at the core of the Yankees' future.