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2022 First Base Targets? – Anthony Rizzo

Last week I looked at potential shortstop options for the Yankees going into the 2022 season, ultimately coming to the idea that a trade for Amed Rosario is the best course of action for the Yankees.

This week, I turn my attention to the players fielding throws from Rosario and the rest of the infield: first base. I talked about one lefty yesterday, so what about Anthony Rizzo?

 

Anthony Rizzo: A Quick Overview

Coming out of Stoneman-Douglas High School (Parkland, FL), Anthony Rizzo was a 6th round selection in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Boston Red Sox. He signed on to play professional ball with a $325,000 signing bonus, starting in Rookie ball in the 2007 season. Rizzo would spend the next 4 seasons in the Red Sox organization making it to Double-A before being traded to the San Diego Padres for Adrian Gonzalez. Going into 2011, Rizzo ranked as a Top-100 prospect, started the year in Triple-A, and made his MLB debut on June 9th, 2011. Rizzo ranked as a consensus Top-100 prospect going into the 2012 season and was traded again, this time to the Chicago Cubs in a deal for Andrew Cashner. Anthony Rizzo then spent the next 9 and a half seasons with the Cubs and was a major part in their breaking their 108-year World Series curse in 2016. This past trade deadline, Rizzo was traded yet again to the New York Yankees in a prospect package for Kevin Alcantara and Alexander Vizcaino. This is the first time Rizzo has been a free agent in his career after signing a 7/$41 Million contract with the Cubs before his 2013 season.

Over his career, Anthony Rizzo has hit to a .268/.369/.481 (.850 OPS/127 OPS+) triple-slash with 1,372 hits, 251 home runs, and 814 RBI’s in 1,406 games over parts of 11 seasons. He’s put in over 12,000 innings at first base to a +71 DRS and a +36.2 UZR along with 4 Gold Glove Awards (2016, 2018-2020) and a Platinum Glove Award (2016). Combined with everything, he’s accumulated +36.8 bWAR/+31.8 fWAR.

In 2021, Anthony Rizzo was a fun Yankee to add to the team, and his numbers were good but not great. He hit to a combined .248/.344/.440 (.783 OPS/111 OPS+) triple-slash between the Cubs (92 games) and Yankees (49 games) with 123 hits (80/43 split), 22 home runs (14/8 split), and 61 RBI’s (40/21 split). He also had a -6 DRS and a +0.1 UZR at first base. Combined, he hit to a +1.7 bWAR/+1.6 fWAR.

For a player who has been in professional baseball since 2007 and in the MLB full time since 2013, Anthony Rizzo has been incredibly durable. He had a short 11-day DL stint in 2009, avoided any stint on an injured list again until 2018 when he was out for another 11 games. Then, his last and final stint was this past season for 10 days. Over 15 years, he’s missed just 32 days of baseball. I’m not worried about his injury history.

 

The Case For Anthony Rizzo:

The nice thing for the New York Yankees is that plenty of the first base target available to them (either via free agency or trade) are mostly made of upsides. Anthony Rizzo certainly has more than a few reasons to want to sign him.

After joining the Yankees at the trade deadline this past season, Anthony Rizzo did become a Yankee that was met with (mostly) enjoyment. First impressions are everything, and in each of his first two games as a Yankee he hit a home run. He instantly became a team member that fans enjoyed, and if anything having that fan service behind a move is always a plus to ownership. Knowing how the Yankees operate, getting a chance to get to know the New York media, and Yankees fans helps in that regard too. He knows what he is in for.

Rizzo also has a good track record as an above-average hitter and as a good fielder. His consistency to put up above-average seasons on both sides of the ball year-in and year-out is a valuable skill set to have. With that, it also serves that his extensive avoidance of injury has definitely helped with that too. It will also help him age better as previous injuries won’t come back, as there are none that will flare up again. These are both very valuable assets for Rizzo in his free agency period.

Ranked as the #21 free agent going into this offseason (by MLBTR), the current expectation for a free agent contract for Rizzo stands in the range of about 3-Year and $45 Million ($15 Million AAV). (For what it’s worth, none of their 3 writers projected that he’d sign with the Yankees.) For a player who should by all means be able to account for 2+ WAR per year over the next three seasons, if a team gets him on a contract like that he should play to the contract value (5-6 bWAR over those 3 years combined). So, by all estimated values of WAR he will be worth it.

Add in being a left-handed hitter, the fact that Anthony Rizzo is a winner (see: Chicago Cubs, 2016) and it’s easy to see why the Yankees were interested in, and got, Anthony Rizzo at last years trade deadline.

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The Simple Pro’s: Consistently Above-Average Hitter and Defender, Durable Player, Knows New York

 

The Case Against Anthony Rizzo:

The Yankee fanbase is always accepting of new, good-to-great players. Especially when we know that they are going to help us a ton in getting to the next level. However, I’m worried that if the Yankees bring back Anthony Rizzo fans are going to think that he overstayed his welcome.

The simple fact of the matter is that very very few baseball players get through 11 years of baseball without putting serious wear and tear on their bodies. Ichiro Suzuki comes to mind as a player who was able to avoid serious injuries and his body definition (5’11”, 175 lbs) was much different than Rizzo’s (6’3”, 240 lbs). It wouldn’t be surprising for Rizzo as he enters his age-32 season (thus the end of his peak) and beyond to start accumulating actual injury time.

Speaking of peaks, Rizzo the last two seasons (2020-2021) combined to a 109 OPS+ which is a major move away from where he has been the rest of his career (134 OPS+ from 2013-2019). He’s not expected by any projection system to get anywhere near the 3 WAR bubble, and a lot of this is because his play is unfortunately diminishing. It happens to (almost) every player and buying into a players post-peak years is always a gamble.

There’s also the unfortunate news for Anthony Rizzo that there are better options out there (such as Matt Olson, who we discussed yesterday). Rizzo has already started to come down from his years as a top-tier first baseman in the league. While his contract would be more manageable for the Yankees, a player making $15 Million who provides 1.5 WAR of value isn’t as valuable as a player making $30 Million who provides 4 WAR of value.

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The Simple Con’s: Aging Curves and History, Doesn’t Move Needle As Much as Others

 

Ethan’s Thoughts:

I liked having Anthony Rizzo on the Yankees last year. He was a fun player to have and an indication that, after years of annoyance with following the move that front office has made, they finally realized that left-handed hitters make the Yankees a better team.

However, as I expressed above I am worried that Anthony Rizzo- if he returned to the Yankees for 2022 and beyond- is going to overstay the welcome of him being a Yankee. Even if he was willing to take a 1 year deal at a contract at a similar value as the contract above I’d even say he isn’t worth it. There are two other options (Matt Olson being one of them) which make the Yankees a much better team in both the long and short term.

Anthony Rizzo is a great ballplayer. He’s going to end up a Hall of Very Good type guy and for his phenomenal season in 2016 he will always be remembered. I am happy that he was a Yankee.

But, if the Yankees end up with Anthony Rizzo as the starting first baseman in 2022 it is going to be a disappointment from what could have been. And, I don’t want to have to associate that disappointment with Anthony Rizzo.

Anthony Rizzo is the cost-effective first baseman for the 2022 season. He’s going to have value. To the Yankee he should have none.

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