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Yankees confident healthy Bird will produce

Cashman trusts 1B's abilities; rookie Andujar could begin season as starting 3B
MLB.com @BryanHoch

With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing this week with the corner infielders.

NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman recalls a summer conversation with his crosstown counterpart, Sandy Alderson, during which the Yankees' general manager expressed interest in several first-base options that the Mets were shopping in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

With the start of Spring Training approaching, anticipation is building for the 2018 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Yankees' roster, continuing this week with the corner infielders.

NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman recalls a summer conversation with his crosstown counterpart, Sandy Alderson, during which the Yankees' general manager expressed interest in several first-base options that the Mets were shopping in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The Yanks might be able to use Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda or Neil Walker, Cashman told Alderson, but only as a rental -- so strong was Cashman's belief that Greg Bird would return from an injury-plagued season and impact the second half of the postseason drive.

"I do remember him saying, 'Are you really going to rely on Greg Bird, who hasn't played all year?'" Cashman said. "I said to him, 'I know this guy, and I know what he's capable of. He's going to be healthy. He's coming back, and he will hit, because that's what he's always done.'"

Though a right ankle injury limited Bird to 48 games in 2017, in which he batted .190 with nine homers and 28 RBIs, he delivered some of the team's biggest hits of the postseason -- including a homer off Indians left-hander Andrew Miller that accounted for the only run in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Video: Must C Clutch: Bird sends go-ahead homer soaring

"This team is a great team," Bird said that night. "It's been an interesting year for me. They've picked me up, and to be able to pick them up is huge."

The Yankees are banking on seeing a full season of Bird's left-handed stroke sending balls into Yankee Stadium's second deck, as he did against Miller in the ALDS. After returning from the disabled list on Aug. 26, Bird scored 14 runs, hit eight homers and collected 25 RBIs in 29 games, batting .440 (11-for-25) with runners in scoring position.

"My full expectation is to trust in Greg Bird," Cashman said. "That's why we waited all season for him. We knew he was coming back. Unfortunately, it took a lot longer to determine what was really ailing him. When we did, we knew what the time frame was and he'd be back. His abilities are what they are. We're going to get a productive player there, and we're lucky to have him."

Tyler Austin and Billy McKinney would be the in-house candidates behind the 25-year-old Bird in the event of injury. The picture is less clear at third base, where the Yanks are seriously entertaining beginning the year with 23-year-old rookie Miguel Andujar as the starter.

Video: NYY@CWS: Andujar drives in four in big league debut

Andujar led all Yankees Minor Leaguers in batting average (.315) and doubles (36), ranked third in RBIs (82) and tied for fourth with a career-high 16 homers. He was 4-for-7 (.571) in big league play, including a three-hit, four-RBI performance in his memorable June 28 debut against the White Sox.

Though Andujar committed 17 errors in the Minors, Cashman said that his glove work should benefit from a full spring in big league camp.

"He's come a long way defensively," Cashman said. "He's worked extremely hard on it. I don't think there's a reluctance to [have Andujar] play third for any reason."

Barring a late offseason addition, the Yankees' other third-base options include Thairo Estrada, Jace Peterson, Gleyber Torres, Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade, all of whom will also see reps at second base.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Greg Bird