Luke Voit’s latest trip to the IL is of course frustrating for all involved in the short term, as you never want to lose a bat like his, regardless of his role. Long-term, however, it raises multiple questions about his future with the Yankees, and how the Yankees address the first base position heading into the 2022 season. Let’s take a quick look at some of the possible scenarios and ways in which the Yankees might address the situation:
The Yankees can trade Luke Voit. Would the market be huge for an injury-prone below-average defensive first baseman who’ll be 31 years old by Opening Day? No. But there absolutely would be teams willing to take a chance on him. Let’s not allow frustration to cloud our judgment about his ability because Voit is indeed a savage in the box. Since joining the Yankees, Voit is 19th in all of MLB in OPS+ (minimum 1,100 PA), and third among first baseman, behind only Freddie Freeman and Pete Alonso. Given that Voit is one of 11 Yankees eligible for arbitration this off-season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the team look to deal one or more of them, especially one whose role is cloudy.
The Yankees can sign a free agent first baseman, and get Voit at-bats as a backup, and at DH. I don’t think there’s a Yankee fan who wouldn’t love to see Anthony Rizzo (or Freddie Freeman) in pinstripes long term. For the sake of discussion, if the Yankees signed a free agent of that magnitude, they could play Voit at first base 20 games and have him DH another 70 – that would be over 300 plate appearances for Voit and would certainly return some power to the lineup that the Yankees were missing in 2021.
Although alluring, that scenario is also the least likely to play out, as that setup would require Giancarlo Stanton to play about half of his games in the outfield to get Voit at-bats as a DH. In a vacuum, Stanton playing half of his games in the outfield would likely be OK with all involved, but from a logistical standpoint, it would be difficult to pull off. Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo need to be in the outfield on a regular basis, and Aaron Hicks (the only true centerfielder in the group) will be in the mix again. Additionally, the Yankees’ newfound frugality makes it very unlikely the organization will pony up the money for a star free agent first baseman, particularly when the team still doesn’t have a shortstop.
That brings us to the most probable outcome, which is the Yankees head into 2022 with Luke Voit as their everyday first baseman — a situation many MLB teams would love to be in. Voit provides a lot of offense, and assuming the Yankees get a shortstop for 2022, the team would be set up with a pretty formidable infield. Additionally, despite the likelihood of Voit getting a salary bump this off-season, he’s still going to be a relatively inexpensive option for your favorite luxury tax threshold concerned team.
Although it may be the most probable outcome, we can’t discuss it without bringing up the elephant in the room: Since July 1st of 2019, Voit has missed 145 games due to various injuries – just short of half of the team’s games. If the plan is “Luke Voit is our first baseman”, then the team needs a contingency plan should Voit continue to be injured on a regular basis. Yes, DJ LeMahieu “can” play first base, but he has far more value if he’s not tied to first base. Chris Gittens had himself a very good 2021 in Scranton, but the Yankees seemed hesitant to commit to him when they really needed a first baseman earlier this season.
Furthermore, if Luke Voit is the full-time first baseman going into the 2022 season, then a very hard look at his strength and conditioning program both from a prehab and rehab perspective is mandatory because the current one isn’t working. Whether the problem is a lack of compliance, poor communication, or poor programming, no one outside the Yankees organization knows. (Although if I may be so bold, I might suggest that posting videos of heavy one-arm barbell bench presses might not have been the best choice considering he’s missed 73 games due to abdominal, hernia, and oblique problems.)
Regardless of how it turns out, this is going to be an aspect of the offseason that’s going to have a big impact on the team’s chances in 2022. The search for an everyday shortstop will rightfully garner more attention, but given the relative lack of production the team got from the first base position in 2021, this issue is far from insignificant and should be watched closely. The Yankees’ brain trust needs to formulate a solid plan on multiple levels going into 2022 to ensure they get production from the first base position.