The veteran might not have much left, but the team’s avenues for replacing Anthony Rizzo are limited.
You know you’re not in a great place as a team when the trade deadline has come and gone and much of your fan base is clamoring for a reunion with a 32-year old first baseman who hasn’t been effective regular in three years and ran a .548 OPS in his only major league action this year, but that’s where the Yankees are. The clamor, of course, has come as a result of the combination of Anthony Rizzo’s placement on the IL and Luke Voit exercising the opt-out in his minor league deal with the Yankees.
Voit was bad enough in the majors this year that the Brewers, with whom he signed a minor league deal over the winter, cut bait after just 22 homerless games. That came on the heels of two seasons split between the Yankees, Padres, and Nationals in which he was roughly a league average bat — a far cry from his 144 OPS+ between 2018 and 2020 — which, given that hitting is his only tool, works out to a close-to-replacement level player.
He quickly caught on with the Mets after being cut by Milwaukee, subsequently tearing up Triple-A for the last month and a half while awaiting another shot at the show. But despite mashing 14 homers and in just 35 games and running an 18.9 percent walk rate for Triple-A Syracuse, it never came, even after the Mets’ trade deadline sell-off, and Voit subsequently chose to explore options elsewhere. It’s very possible that his bat speed has fallen off enough that he’s not much of an MLB hitter anymore, and that Triple-A pitching is the most he can catch up to at this point. It also wouldn’t be particularly unprecedented if he’s found a little more juice and still has a few good enough years left to contribute.
On the Yankees’ side, it’s just the unfortunate reality that thanks to their trade deadline passivity and the fact that they seemingly didn’t seem interested in the possibility that Rizzo may have been suffering from concussion effects, their options to replace him are relatively sparse, even if the bar to outdo what he’s produced in his unhealthy state is pretty low. In addition to being coy about the possibility of a Voit reunion, Aaron Boone also noted that Rizzo’s fill in, for the time being, would be a platoon between Jake Bauers and D.J. LeMahieu. Bauers has hit well, and while he’s provided negative value in the outfield, sliding him to first base against righties is still a blow to the team’s outfield depth, given the rarity with which Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader, and Giancarlo Stanton are able to take the outfield together. LeMahieu’s move to first base against southpaws means more at-bats at the hot corner for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, which means more reps in the outfield for Greg Allen and Oswaldo Cabrera, who hasn’t been an MLB-caliber hitter this year. Either that, or one of Bauers or Billy McKinney will have to take at-bats against same-handed pitchers, which just isn’t a good idea.
That’s the reason why the idea of taking a chance on a Voit resurgence might feel tantalizing: there just aren’t any better choices. The other day, Marcus Zappia explored the idea of getting Everson Pereira some time on the big league roster; if he does get the call, the outfield will at least be a little more interesting with Bauers at first base. Similarly — and this is if we’re assuming the Yankees aren’t necessarily trying to win every game like they’re in the thick of a playoff race — it might even be preferable to continue to give Oswald Peraza a shot to man third base every day while keeping Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the outfield. There’s also an actual first base prospect, Andrés Chaparro, sitting on an .826 OPS with Triple-A Scranton, and calling him up might make the most sense of any internal move, particularly if they don’t want to dedicate a spot on the active roster to essentially a defensive replacement in Greg Allen before it expands in September.
If Voit is still good even for something near the 106 OPS+ he posted between 2021 and 2022, it would still be a substantial upgrade over how most of the current options have performed. Cabrera has been 40 percent worse than average on offense, and even with his better hitting of late, you probably don’t want to rely on Kiner-Falefa too much more than you need to. Bauers and McKinney are pretty strict platoon options, and Greg Allen is Greg Allen. Plus, it’s not an on-field consideration, but giving Voit another shot might simply be fun, in a year that’s been desperately starved of it. Three games back of a playoff spot and with an offense that’s been anything consistent and still prone to pure ineffectiveness even with Aaron Judge back, they don’t have a whole lot to lose. It may have been a few years ago, but Yankees fans have seen how Voit can help carry an offense. If there’s even a shred left of the hitter who finished ninth in 2020 MVP voting, it might be worth a flyer.