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Why the Yankees Should Trade Luke Voit

This is a special guest post from Chris O’Connor.

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Luke Voit has been a tremendous success story for Brian Cashman and the Yankees. Acquired in July 2018 for a meager return of Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos (though Gallegos has performed well with the Cardinals), Voit was incredible down the stretch in 2018 and has continued to excel for the team in 2019 and 2020. He has a 143 OPS+ since joining the Yankees, and he even led the entire sport in home runs in this shortened season of 2020 with 22 long balls. Simply put, he has been a great hitter for the team in the two and a half years he has been in New York. However, his lack of positional flexibility and the superfluous nature of his approach leads me to believe that the team would be better off trading him if it wants to win a World Series in the near future.

In modern baseball, versatility and positional flexibility are incredibly valuable to teams. Voit’s inability to play any position other than 1st base, a position where he does not field all that well as is, has a significant opportunity cost when one considers the rest of the roster. Voit is a great hitter, but he becomes less great from a relative standpoint when you consider that first basemen who can’t field well or play any other position have to hit incredibly well to have any sort of value to a team. If Voit can’t pay any position other than 1st base, there is a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup.

This ripple effect begins (but does not end with Giancarlo Stanton who is pretty much locked into the DH spot considering his injury history, and is also virtually untradeable due to the significant amount of money left on his contract. Because of this, Voit can’t DH and has to play 1st base. This means that DJ LeMahieu, a fantastic defender at multiple positions who can play 1st base, has to play 2nd base and Gleyber Torres has to play shortstop. Torres is simply not a good defender at short – he was second in the league among primary shortstops with nine errors and his range is limited with a UZR of -13.0 per 150 games, a truly awful number. Defense is important, and though whoever they trade Voit for would almost certainly be worse at bat, they could make up for it with superior defense and versatility that allows the team to play their best nine players. If the Yankees traded Voit and picked up a versatile defender who can play multiple infield positions (either through the trade or free agency), they would be able to play LeMahieu at 1st (assuming the team re-signs him), Torres at 2nd, a (hopefully) good defensive shortstop, and Gio Urshela at third. Though a team can never have too much hitting, the Yankees can use more defense; though the numbers are not officially out for 2020, in 2019 the Yankees had a team defensive rating of 1.7, which ranked 14th in the league. The Yankees certainly have a lot of room for improvement defensively.

For a comparison to the Yankees, let’s look at a team like the Dodgers, a model for team building with significant financial resources. They have won eight straight division titles and though they have not won a World Series during that stretch, I think that is more due to bad luck than any fault in team building. In recent years, namely 2017 and 2019, they have been as talented as some of the best teams in franchise history, and I believe much of that is due to their versatility. With guys that can play multiple positions like Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Enrique Hernandez, no team is as versatile as the Dodgers. Their primary first basemen in 2020, Muncy, started 31 games at 1st base, 14 at 3rd base, and 11 at 2nd base. This kind of versatility allows the Dodgers to play their best position players all over the diamond. For example, if third baseman Justin Turner needs a day off, Muncy can be plugged in at that difficult defensive position, and seeing that 1st base is considered one of the easier defensive positions, the team can really just plug in their best remaining hitter in at 1st base. Heck, Cody Bellinger’s versatility in the outfield allowed the team to trade for Mookie Betts; he simply moved from right field to center field to accommodate Betts. That’s really it – having versatility in the field allows a team to plug in their best players into the lineup as often as possible without positional restraints.

Although Luke Voit obviously had a tremendous year at bat, and has been great offensively since being traded to the Yankees, the Yankees have consistently come up short in the playoffs against good teams. In particular, anyone who has watched the team can see that their hitting falls apart against the best pitching in the playoffs. I believe a lot of this is due to a lack of diversity of approach. The Yankees have many power hitters that walk and strike out a lot. Between guys like Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge, the Yankees have enough power hitting-strikeout machines. They need more diversity and can use a contact hitter who can control the strike zone and come through when singles and doubles are needed rather than home runs. Though small ball is statistically inefficient in the long run of a 162 game regular season, there is something to be said for the little things like that that can make a difference in a tight five or seven game series. Though a team should not build a roster from scratch around this idea, using a contact guy to complement the many power hitters the team has would bring a diversity of approach that can make a difference in the playoffs. This is something the Yankees have been lacking.

Now, who can the team target to fill the void in the infield if they trade Voit? There are some appealing free agent options. Old friend Didi Gregorius is a free agent, and though a reunion seems unlikely, Gleyber flopped in his audition to man the shortstop position. Didi provides superior defense and a contact bat. Marcus Semien, an MVP candidate for the A’s in 2019, is a free agent, though he struggled in 2020 to a 91 WRC+. Andrelton Simmons, one of the best defensive players of all time, is a free agent who can man shortstop, though the Angels will most likely try to re-sign him. A few dark horse trade candidates who can play shortstop: Brandon Crawford of the Giants, who is Gerrit Cole’s brother-in-law, is great defensively, and should not cost too much because he is signed only through 2021. If the Cardinals decide to rebuild, Paul Dejong is a terrific defensive shortstop signed through 2023, though the team probably will not trade him considering his long span of team control. The most intriguing option is Francisco Lindor of the Indians. Signed through 2021, the Indians will not be able to afford to keep him, which Lindor himself has expressed. The cost to acquire him should not be too high considering he is a free agent at the end of next year, though the Yankees would not be able to compete with a team with a farm system as good as the Dodgers if they want Lindor as well. The Yankees have the money for him, but might not want to spend it with some of their own players up for extensions soon and they may not have the prospect capital if they engage in a bidding war with other teams.

While Luke Voit is obviously a terrific hitter, I believe his lack of defensive versatility and approach to hitting that overlaps with many of their other stars makes him expendable. The Yankees are a terrific team and their improvements must be made on the margins. Diversifying their offensive approach and placing more value on defense and versatility would be a way to do that, even considering the difficulty of finding a player like that. Voit’s value is at an all time high; he just led the league in homers, and he will turn 30 by the start of next year. Though a late bloomer, it is difficult to see him getting significantly better as he approaches his early 30’s, and his defensive range and baserunning value, as low as they are now, will only decline with age. The Yankees have a decent replacement in house with Mike Ford, who hit for a 136 OPS+ in 2019, though he struggled in 2020. Ford could be a part time 1st basement or fill in for the starting role if injuries hit again. And with Tommy Kanhle out for 2021 with Tommy John surgery, maybe the team can add another reliever or a low-end starter in a potential Voit trade.

Regardless of whether they trade Voit or keep him, the Yankees will be a great team again in 2021. After four years of playoff disappointment, however, it might be time to mix things up a little bit.

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