If I Were The GM: My Choice for First Base
by Paul Semendinger
November 17, 2021
As the Hot Stove League starts to gear up and draw excitement, interest, and anticipation, I decided to share my thoughts (as I do each year) on who I would acquire for each position if I were the Yankees GM.
We’ll start at first base.
Based upon all of the rumors and such regarding available players by trade, the current Yankees, and the free agent candidates, it seems that the 2022 Yankees first baseman will be one of the following players:
Let’s briefly examine each:
D.J. LeMahieu – D.J. is a nice player. He’s a good player. He can hit. He can field well. He has a lot of versatility because he can play first base, second base, and third base. At his best, D.J. LeMahieu is a high average hitter- an on-base machine who can be among the league’s most elite hitters. (I should really modify that last sentence to say “At his best D.J. LeMahieu WAS, at times, among the league’s most elite hitters.” Those days, I believe (as I wrote last year) are now behind him.) First base is a position that needs to create a lot of offense and power. D.J. LeMahieu will not provide that for the 2022 Yankees. LeMahieu is also not young. He’ll turn 34-years-old this summer. LeMahieu has value to the 2022 Yankees. His value, though, is not as the everyday first baseman. If the Yankees go into 2022 with LeMahieu as their first baseman, it will be a mistake. Going forward, LeMahieu will be the hitter he was before coming to the Yankees. Look to see a guy who hits about .275 with 10-15 homers. Nice enough, but not for a corner infield spot.
Anthony Rizzo – It was great seeing a player at first base who can field the position so well. Rizzo brings a certain grace to this defensive position. He has been a winner and he seems to be a positive leader in the clubhouse. Rizzo is also a necessary left-handed bat that the lineup desperately needs. It’s interesting that people see Rizzo as an aging player (which he is) but he is a year younger than LeMahieu. Still, since he is a free agent, and since he’ll turn 33-years-old this summer, and since his best years seem behind him, I would not go into 2022 with Anthony Rizzo as my first baseman. At his best, I see Rizzo at a .285/25 homer guy if he plays every day as a Yankee, but I think it’s more likely that he’d bat closer to .250 and slug a few less homers as well. The Yankees could do a lot worse than Anthony Rizzo, but they can also do better.
Freddie Freeman – Freddy would be fun. He’s a lefty batter. He has hit over .300 every year (but one) since 2016. In Yankee Stadium, he has 35+ homer power. As a newly arriving free agent hero in the Bronx, I could see this new World Champion putting up a monster year: .325/44/120. It could absolutely happen, especially if he bats between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Oh, how much fun would that be! Fantastic Freddie is actually about a month younger than Anthony Rizzo. If the Yankees could sign Freeman to a five year deal, it would make a ton of sense The only negative to Freeman is that he’s on the same aging curve as the other big Yankee bats. He could help bring glory to the next few years, but he’s not a longer-term answer. Still, he’d cost only money (no prospects) and he would move the needle forward (by far) for those next few years. The more I think about Freeman, the more sense he makes. I want a world champion. I’ll worry about 2026 later…
Matt Olson – This is the player everyone (including myself) is begging the Yankees to get. He could hit 40 homers as a Yankee. He’s let-handed. He can play defense. He looks like a natural fit. And in many ways he is. Matt Olson, who will enter his age-28 season, would help the 2022 Yankees and the team longer-term than anyone else on this list. He plays every day and he’s good. Because he’s young, he’ll be a less expensive player in cost, but to get him, the Yankees will have to pay a high prospect cost. Let’s also not forget that his 2020 season wasn’t good (he batted .195). I’d love Olson on the Yankees, but it’s not as much a slam dunk as many believe.
Luke Voit – Voit is younger than all the players above, except for Olson. He will be 31-years-old next season. Voit, though, isn’t the answer. He does not play good defense. He is a right-handed hitter. He is oft-injured and he misses significant time when he is injured. The Yankees found lightning in a bottle with Voit. He showed his flash and his promise. I just don’t see him realizing that again. Sure, he could hit 30+ homers, but he does not add anything special to the lineup. He’s not the answer for 2022, but because of his power and age, and the fact that he’s under team control (and not expensive), he would be a somewhat valuable trade chip for the Yankees to use. It’s time to use that chip.
Joey Gallo – The youngest guy on this list is Joey Gallo. He just turned 27-years-old in September. Gallo is a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, but he has also played a fair amount of time at first base, and played it well. The Yankees could fix some of their lineup problems by considering Gallo as their first baseman and seeing about getting an outfielder for left field. Crazier things have happened. Gallo had a disaster of a time in New York in 2021. Many want to run him out of town, and quickly, but at the same time, they’re willing to forgive Matt Olson’s down 2020 season. The player on this list most likely to bash more than 40 homers as a Yankee is Gallo. I was as frustrated by Joey Gallo as the next guy, but I see a much better 2022 for him. Gallo will be a free agent after next season. We’ve seen many players have career years right as they get to that point. I think it’s likely that Gallo turns the boos into cheers in 2022. I wouldn’t move him to first base, but I’d keep that as a great fallback option.
In summary, the decision for the Yankees comes down to dollar cost or player cost. The best choices are between Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson. Because the Yankees do not have a ton of prospects to deal, and because they have money to spend, and because he shows no signs of slowing down in the next few years, I’d go big for Freddie Freeman and have Matt Olson as my second choice. In fact, I’d try to lock up Freeman on a nice big five-year deal (5 years $150m) immediately so that if he doesn’t like my terms, I can fall back and grab Olson before another team gets him.
In sum, I think the Yankees will regret the player cost of Olson more than the salary cost of Freeman. And, Freeman is the better player.
My third choice would be Anthony Rizzo, but I don’t think he’s the answer unless the Yankees significantly upgrade in other areas.
Luke Voit and D.J. LeMahieu are not the answers for the 2022 Yankees. If it comes down to them, the better answer just might be Joey Gallo.
Just get Freddie. It makes the most sense.