New York Post

Cashman high on Bird as 1B of the future


CLEVELAND — Brian Cashman insists he did not need the strong — healthy — late run by Greg Bird to know he was the first baseman, not just now but moving forward.

From the past, Cashman had not just Bird’s strong 2015 cameo while filling in for an injured Mark Teixeira and a powerhouse spring training this year but also reports consistent­ly stating Bird was the best hitter in a farm system that also contained Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.

As for the future, Cashman did not obfuscate at all. He said, “We are getting under the threshold next year.” That means the $197 million luxurytax line for 2018. Translatio­n: A big-ticket item such as free agent Eric Hosmer will not be signed when the Yankees can pay a player they have such high regard for around $600,000 next season.

“Bird is our first baseman moving forward,” Cashman told The Post. “We haven’t had [offseason] meetings like this, but the exclamatio­n point is we are getting under the threshold next year. Bird is our first baseman moving forward because obviously we believe in him and also because of the cost control. The most important factor is if Bird is worthy enough to be our first baseman, and our answer is ‘yes.’ ”

The Yankees have about $113 million committed to seven players, plus the $5.5 million they will pay toward current Astros catcher Brian McCann’s salary next season. That includes Masahiro Tanaka’s contract because though he could opt out, the strong likelihood is that he will not.

The Yanks will have about another $35 million for arbitratio­n-eligibles, including Didi Gregorius, Sonny Gray and Aaron Hicks. Each team in the league will be charged roughly $14 million in 2018 for items such as insurance and pension. The 25-man roster has to be finalized around non-arbitratio­neligible players such as Judge, Sanchez, Luis Severino and, yes, Bird. Between that and what must be budgeted for callups during the season, you can add at least $10 million more.

Once you also put away some dough to make in-season trades, well, you see there will not be a heck of a lot of cushion left to sign a big-ticket item such as Hosmer, even if the Yanks decide to trade a player such as Starlin Castro or David Robertson. The advantages of avoiding more ominous penalties than ever for being a repeat offender for being over the luxury tax and resetting the tax to a lower level in anticipati­on of the starry freeagent class after next season is just too strong for the Yanks not to get under the threshold in 2018.

That is why the Yankees feel blessed they have assembled what looks to be — for now — a low-cost, high-impact positional core around Bird, Gregorius, Judge, Sanchez and, they hope soon. Gleyber Torres.

Cashman says he never had doubt Bird would fit into that cornerston­e. The Yankees general manager said he did not see Bird’s several injuries as suggesting he will be susceptibl­e throughout his career and believes the first baseman has a strong passion for the game.

So at the trade deadline, Cashman did not look to solve first base long-term and even left wiggle room this year if Bird could return from right ankle surgery.

That proved wise. Bird made it back Aug. 26 and hit eight homers with an .891 OPS in his final 29 games. That included a season-ending tear over his final 14 games — in which the Yanks were 10-4 — that Bird hit six homers and had a 1.168 OPS.

“I did not need the end of the year to know it [about Bird]. I knew it,” Cashman said. “I liken it a bit to Bobby Abreu. The whole industry knew Bobby could roll out of bed and hit. He did not need much preparatio­n. He was such a gifted athlete, and hitting naturally came to him. I feel Bird is the same way.”

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