The Off-Season: If At First You Don’t Succeed, It Could Be A Long Season.
By Tim Kabel
October 30, 2021
As I cast my eye toward the 2022 season, I will first turn to first. First base is a position that is covered in question marks. Luke Voit came into the 2021 season as the reigning American League home run champion. 2021 was a year that was riddled with injuries and inconsistency for Mr. Voit. He remains under contract and on the roster. He is a power hitter, who will turn 31-years-old in February. First base is the only defensive position he can play, and he is not adept at it. If someone else is playing first base, Voit will either sit on the bench or be the designated hitter. Voit demonstrated very clearly last year that he thinks he should play all the time. He stated he deserved to play just as much as Anthony Rizzo did. Rizzo was clearly the much better defender, as he won a platinum glove in the past. The only way Voit could have a platinum glove is if he took it to a place where they bronze baby shoes and had them dip his glove in a vat of platinum. There are concerns regarding Voit’s durability, defense, and his ability to put the team first. The only season he played essentially a full slate of games was 2020, which was shortened to 60 games due to the pandemic. He is not extremely athletic, nor is he the high contact hitter that Brian Cashman is seeking. He’s also right-handed.
Anthony Rizzo came over at the trade deadline from the Chicago Cubs. He will turn 33 in August of 2022. He is a free agent and if the Yankees want to bring him back, they will need to sign him to a contract. It is unknown how many years and what salary he will request. However, it’s safe to assume he will want as much money and as many years as possible. Who can blame him? The Yankees sent two prospects to the Cubs for him and if they don’t re-sign Rizzo, they essentially gave up the prospects for a few months of Rizzo’s services. Rizzo is an excellent defender and provided some spark to the team. He is a solid hitter, who showed an ability and willingness to hit to the opposite field. He also demonstrated leadership. He is a left-handed hitter, which as we all know, is desirable at Yankee Stadium.
D. J. LeMahieu is a capable first baseman and could play there full time but, he profiles more as a second baseman or third baseman. The Yankees original plan when they acquired him was for him to rotate among the positions of third base, second base, and first base. He will turn 34-years-old in July. He signed a six-year contract to remain with the Yankees in January 2021. He had an off year in 2021 but, in 2020, he was the American League batting champion. He is the versatile, athletic, and high contact type of hitter that Cashman is seeking. However, it is highly doubtful that he will be the starting first baseman unless an emergency occurs.
Chris Gittens briefly played on the Major League team this year, before he too, was injured. He will turn 28-years-old in February. I can safely predict that he will not be the Yankees’ regular first baseman next year. There is a better chance of me being named the King of England.
There is no budding star in the minor leagues, pushing for the Yankees to play him at first base. Of the four players named above, only two are realistic options to be the Yankees’ everyday first baseman. D. J. LeMahieu will either play second, third, or in some type of a rotation among the various infield positions, other than shortstop. Chris Gittens will not be the opening day first baseman and may very well no longer be on the team. The Yankees may choose to give his roster spot to someone younger, more athletic, and versatile.
There have been several articles in the past week stating Anthony Rizzo wants to remain with the Yankees. He would be a fine choice but, he will most likely want a contract of four or more years for a considerable amount of money. Since he will turn 33 next year, the length of his contract would be something to consider very carefully. Although he is still a very solid player, his offensive numbers are clearly declining. If he were willing to sign a two-year contract, it would definitely be something to consider. If the Yankees sign Rizzo to a long-term contract, they run the risk of having two declining, untradeable players in their late thirties, clogging up first and second base.
The Yankees could return first base to Luke Voit. That would only work if he was the starting and full-time first basement. Otherwise, his brooding, sulking, and constant efforts to gain attention would be detrimental to the team. Think about this, if he openly stated to the media that he deserved as much playing time as Anthony Rizzo, what do you suppose he was saying behind closed doors to his teammates? If he is not the starting first baseman, he should not be on the team. Other than pinch-hitting, there would be very little for him to do.
There is another option. The Yankees could trade for a first baseman. Former general manager, Jim Bowden, proposed such a thing in the Athletic. He suggested that the Yankees trade Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, and Domingo German to the Oakland A’s for first baseman, Matt Olson. Olson is a Gold Glove winning first baseman, who will be 28-years-old at the end of March 2022. in 2021, Olson hit .271 with 39 home runs and 111 RBI. His OPS was .911. He is a left-handed hitter, who will not be a free agent until 2024. He is younger than both Rizzo and Voit and had a much better year than either of them. He also played half his games in Oakland. Imagine him playing half his games aiming at the short porch at Yankee Stadium, potentially sandwiched between Judge and Stanton. Would the package Bowden proposed be enough? I have no idea. That’s the thing about making a trade proposal; it’s completely hypothetical. We have no notion of what Oakland wants or what they would accept. However, Oakland has a history of trading players before they start to cost a great deal of money, or practically any money at all.
Let’s be optimistic and say that Oakland accepts that package. Would you make the trade? I would. Olson is five years younger than Rizzo and three years younger than Voit. Olson might not be quite as good as Rizzo defensively, but he is certainly no slouch. if Cashman can pull off his trade, he should do it. He might have to add a piece or two. I would rank Olson as the best fit, with Rizzo coming in second. It would be somewhat disappointing and contrary to what Cashman has been proposing, if they handed first base back to Luke Voit. Acquiring Matt Olson would make the team younger and as he is a legitimate left-handed power hitter who hits for a decent average, it would upgrade the lineup immensely.
I plan to address second base in a future article but, suffice it to say that including Gleyber Torres in the deal would guarantee that LeMahieu would be the regular second baseman. Rougned Odor remains on the roster and could fill in when he needed to.
First base is a position that needs to be solidified and although the Yankees have expressed interest in Rizzo and reportedly, he has expressed interest in them, Matt Olson would be the better choice. Olson could be acquired via trade and would be a lot less expensive than Rizzo. As noted above, he’s also five years younger than Rizzo. If Oakland refuses to make the deal and there are no other viable trade options, then Rizzo would certainly be a wonderful choice. But it must be stated that the Yankees do not have infinite resources and if they plan on signing a top-tier shortstop and a starting pitcher, signing Rizzo in addition might be too costly. It will be very interesting to see which direction the Yankees go at first base, and it could be an indicator of what their overall plans will be. A big, overly muscled, injury prone, poor fielder is not what they need. If Luke Voit is the opening day first baseman, it would be a portent of a season of more of the same, rather than a season of change.