As Pitchers and Catchers will report next week, let's spend this week looking at some final Spring Training invitee options:
First Base Needs for 2023:
The New York Yankees do not have any pressing needs at first base, and they should not for the next few seasons. Early into the offseason, the first move that the Yankees made was to re-sign Anthony Rizzo to a 2-year/$40 Million deal (with a 3rd year club option for 2025). As a left-handed bat with an above-average glove and all signs that point to him being a beloved teammate and clubhouse presence, there will be no competition for Rizzo to man first base now and into the immediate future. Not that anybody thought there would be.
Instead, the Yankees have to look at their depth options for the position. At the MLB level, the Yankees have DJ LeMahieu- who had a positive injury update from Dillon Lawson just over a week ago (NY Post+; subs. req.)- and Oswaldo Cabrera to man the off-days of Rizzo and weather the storm in case of injury. Following those two, the Yankees don't have much.
In the minors, prospect Austin Wells- according to a recent article from The Athletic (subs. req.) is not willing to give in on him moving to first base (nor should he at this time). After him, the Yankees have former MLB player Jake Bauers and 2019 draftee Chad Bell both in Triple-A...yet neither hit over .200 at the level last season. It's depth, but it's not great. Maybe there's an option still out there!
2022 MLB Team: Minnesota Twins
2022 MLB Stats: 20 Games, .086/.211/.133 (3 OPS+), 5 Hits, 1 HR, 3 RBI's, -0.8 bWAR
Experience: 8 MLB Seasons (2015-2022)
It's not fair to judge Miguel Sano on his 2022 numbers, so to be fair to him here is what he did in 2021: 135 games, .223/.312/.466 (112 OPS+), 105 hits, 30 home runs, 75 RBI's, +1.0 bWAR. The reason is 2022 numbers were so terrible is because in early May he suffered a left knee sprain, got and rehabbed from surgery, came back too soon at the end of July (he lasted just 3 more games), and then missed the rest of the season. Trying to play around a bum knee as a power hitter cannot be easy, and it totally sapped Sano of what he could do.
Going into 2023, Sano will be turning 30 and has a track record as a consistent 30+ home run hitter, yet the interest in him seems to be minimal. So much that there is serious discussion that he could be looking at a minor league "prove-it" contract for the 2023 season. If you told just about any general manager in baseball that a player coming off a 3/$30 Million extension, still in his prime years, who could hit 30+ home runs could be available for nothing less than an incentive-based minor league deal, I can't see how they'd say no. Yes, Sano is not a good defender. However, he does offer some versatility as a guy who could play first and third, and could even fake it in the outfield, though designated hitter would suit him best.
Should the Yankees target him? 100% right now. I'm writing this before any reports come out about the workout/showcase that he was scheduled to have today for interested teams, and if he hasn't signed yet, I surely hope the Yankees had people there to watch. Signing Sano is the exact type of move that Brian Cashman has made a name for himself for in recent years: bring in a powerful veteran bat coming off of injury to prove himself again with the Yankees. The only negative to Sano is that he is yet another right-handed "home run or bust" type of hitter, yet with the Yankees problems in keeping some of their players healthy (namely: Giancarlo Stanton) I could see Sano finding a role with more 1B/DH time than most realize.
The biggest problem is that Miguel Sano's camp is probably not looking at the Yankees as their preferred destination to prove himself again in 2023. If he's willing to take a minor league deal, it'll likely be with a team that has question marks at first base already at the MLB level (see: the Boston Red Sox). Sano needs to prove he's healthy again first and foremost. That would be the smart business decision to make if I was his agent. In my fantasy, if the Yankees could pull of some magic to get him here, that'd be a steal and a half on a minor league deal with a spring training invitation.
2022 MLB Team: San Diego Padres & Washington Nationals
2022 MLB Stats: 135 Games, .226/.308/.402 (106 OPS+), 113 Hits, 22 HR, 69 RBI's, +0.8 bWAR
Experience: 6 MLB Seasons (2017-2022)
Remember Chasen Shreve? I miss him. He was a fundamental piece in getting the Yankees Luke Voit in 2018. At the time it was a great move. And, to be fair to Luke Voit, as an offensive player, he was very good in pinstripes. But, the time to move on from him came and went and he was sent to San Diego, and then from San Diego to Washington. And now, he's stuck with nowhere to go...
Luke Voit's biggest problem was his inability to play first base. Nobody doubts his ability to hit, nor should they. However, putting him in the field is a huge liability for any team. He also played worse after being sent to Washington DC at the trade deadline. There is truth to how he didn't have much lineup protection around him, but he posted his worst numbers (a 95 OPS+) then since 2017. As a bat-first player who is looking to hang around, that is not a good sign. It points to him needing a strong lineup around him to produce.
Should the Yankees target him? Many franchises fall into an inability to separate themselves from players who their fanbases clung to. A team that is great at cutting ties are the Boston Red Sox, though in recent years this has not paid off with great dividends (see: the Mookie Betts trade). However, it should be said that coming back to a player isn't always the best move. Luke Voit doesn't have a place with the Yankees in 2023 and I can't imagine him taking a minor league deal. Somebody will sign him. Again, look to the Boston Red Sox. It wouldn't be a pretty sight to see, but somebody will be willing to take the risk. If not, and he'll take it, no minor league deal is ever a bad minor league deal.
2022 MLB Team: N/A (2022 was in Triple-A with the New York Yankees)
2022 MLB Stats: N/A
2022 MiLB Stats: 59 Games, .218/.325/.354, 45 Hits, 6 Home Runs, 22 RBI's
Experience: 4 MLB Seasons (2015; 2017-2019)
Speaking of player reunions, we have Greg Bird. The Yankees gave him a shot at a reunion last season and it didn't pan out. He last played in the MLB in 2019 (for 10 games) and last was a positive impact player in 2015. That was a long long time ago.
It's a shame the Yankees haven't been able to develop first base talent in a long time. Greg Bird has joined a list of many other failed first base prospects who were going to be great. However, I will always remember him fondly for that MASSIVE home run he hit off of Andrew Miller. That was an absolute bomb. I was at that game and it was awesome. To re-live that moment, check it out here.
Should the Yankees target him? Why not? At this point, the rest of the Yankees first base depth is so lacking in the minor leagues that Greg Bird cannot be any worse. If he wants to keep going to there and trying to prove he can come back for his 3rd MLB stint, I say let him try. Maybe I'm a bit sentimental after watching that home run, but it would feel cruel to not give him another shot given the state of affairs.
While it isn't a pressing need like other holes that the Yankees should be desperately looking to fill with talent, the Yankees should be mindful that an injury to Rizzo would greatly change how this team looks in 2023. Thus, having some solid first base depth is something that shouldn't go unconsidered.
There are some notable names still out there, as I addressed above, and the general manager inside of me would be doing everything I could to bring in Miguel Sano on a prove-it/incentive-based deal as a minor leaguer. Open the talks with a "we want to give you time to get healthy in a low-pressure environment". Add in how Anthony Rizzo has missed time in the last 2 seasons. Continue with imaginations about the DH role if/when Giancarlo Stanton also gets hurt. Throw in a line about DJ LeMahieu- the Yankees first line of first base depth- also having a recent injury history. Finish with a deal filled with a ton of big incentives at the MLB level and a player option to become a free agent again for May 1st if he isn't on the MLB roster. I strongly think Sano (on a minor league deal) could be the hidden gem of this offseason.
If not, add to the depth with a nice homegrown story in Greg Bird. Besides that, there's not much else the Yankees really can do.