In a Yankees season that was at times surreal, maddeningly injury-plagued and ultimately disappointing, there were only a handful of consistent bright spots. Certainly one was first baseman Luke Voit, who led the majors in home runs and the Yankees in games played and plate appearances.
Since joining the Bombers in 2018 as an unheralded acquisition, the 29-year-old Voit has established himself as a borderline elite offensive first baseman, posting a .279/.372/.543 slash line, 143 OPS+, and 57 homers in 892 plate appearances. He’s done this at bargain basement prices, earning a prorated portion of $643,000 this season in the final pre-arbitration year of his contract. Even factoring in a significant raise for 2021 — MLB Trade Rumors projects Voit to earn between $3.7 million and $7.9 million in his first year of arbitration, depending on how salaries are determined following the shortened season — he represents a steal for the organization.
So, sounds like a good time to trade him, right?
That idea was notably put forth by former Yankee, and current ESPN analyst, Mark Teixeira shortly after New York was eliminated from the playoffs.
“As good as Luke Voit is, and as popular as he is, his value has never been higher,” Teixeira said on “The Michael Kay Show” earlier this month.
So let’s unpack the logic of trading this productive and affordable player. The idea appears to be a way to bridge two conflicting diagnoses of the Yankees heading into this offseason. The first is that they need to re-sign DJ LeMahieu, their versatile second baseman who has been the team’s most valuable player in his two-year stint in the Bronx. The second is that the Yankees need a defensive upgrade at shortstop after Gleyber Torres’ poor showing with the glove this past season. If the team acquires a better fielder to play short, Torres would almost certainly be shifted to second, leaving LeMahieu out in the cold. Unless, of course, he moves to first base, usurping Voit.
Both notions, taken separately, are true: the Yankees would be a better team next year if they bring back LeMahieu; and an upgrade at shortstop would improve the squad. The question is whether they’re compatible with each other, especially if the cost associated with satisfying both is Voit.
It’s a dubious proposition. For one thing, there’s the matter of money. A popular narrative has emerged in local media that the Yankees will try to dip below the $210 million luxury tax threshold this season. Say what you will about that decision (like, “Come on, are you kidding me?”), but if shedding payroll is truly part of the team’s offseason strategy, jettisoning Voit, who would still be a steal at the upper end of MLBTR’s arbitration projection, makes little sense. A fair salary negotiation for LeMahieu starts at $20 million per season, and then there’s the additional salary the Yankees would need to pay a shortstop to enact this double-barreled plan to improve the team’s defense. Voit, with four more years of team control, probably represents the better value.
The second element of the rationale for trading Voit is that, as Teixeira put it, “his value has never been higher,” implying the Yankees would stand to net a significant return if they put him on the market. This is the sort of easy assumption that greases the wheels of offseason trade rumors, but it’s a pretty nebulous proposition. Voit’s value is certainly high… to the Yankees. He’s productive, affordable and, crucially, the Yanks didn’t exactly break the bank acquiring him from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018 — they traded Giovanny Gallegos, who’s blossomed into a solid reliever, and Chasen Shreve, while also receiving international bonus slot money.
How high his value is to other teams, who’d be expected to offer up prime talent for his services, is less certain. Call me crazy, but as good as Voit has been, slugging first basemen with obvious defensive limitations don’t usually fly off the shelf. Perhaps the National League adopting the designated hitter permanently would widen the market for him, but even in the American League, teams have been shifting away from DH-only bats.
Let’s not forget the fact that Voit battled through a foot injury that left him obviously hobbled. It was admirable, but could be viewed as a red flag by potential trade partners.
The idea of trading Voit isn’t outlandish. But there are a lot of factors working against it and, in the end, the Yankees will be better off keeping him and hoping he continues to mash the way he has for the last two-plus years.