Prior to Friday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees placed first baseman Luke Voit on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to 7/13) with left knee inflammation. According to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, the slugger was scheduled to have a lubricating injection in his knee and potentially PRP therapy.
Manager Aaron Boone said there is no timetable for Voit’s return, and this is already his third trip to the injured list in a 2021 season that is quickly shaping up to be a lost year for him.
This creates a massive problem for the offensively-challenged Yankees. Yes, the bats were starting to wake up before the break, but now, the team will be without three starters for the foreseeable future: Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, and Voit. The first two are part of the most recent COVID-19 outbreak, and joined Kyle Higashioka, Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Néstor Cortés Jr. with the same ailment.
The struggling Clint Frazier is still going through vision testing. Per Hoch, they are trying contact lenses and there is still no timeframe for his return. The Yankees’ offense is severely decimated at the moment, and while the COVID-19 group is expected to return in around 10 days, there are (important) games to be played.
Voit’s absence, in particular, is especially painful. The Yankees’ offense could really use a healthy Voit, the one that bopped 22 home runs in a 60-game season last year to lead the league. This year, injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him to a .241/.328/.370 line with three home runs and a .698 OPS in 29 games.
Before the first pitch against Boston last night, the Bombers were eight games behind the Red Sox in the AL East (in third place) and 4.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, occupied by the Oakland Athletics.
A spot in the postseason is still very much within reach, and that’s why Voit’s injury may – and should – force the team to venture into the trade market before the July 30th deadline. With Voit out of the picture for now – hopefully he can return relatively soon, but with the injury being on his knee, it’s certainly not a given – the Yankees have two options: relying on Chris Gittens, giving him a long look to see what he can do with regular or semi-regular playing time, or sliding DJ LeMahieu back to first base and use Rougned Odor and Hoy Park at second.
Gittens may play his fair share of games, but the second scenario remains the most likely. Yet, the Yankees need to replace Voit’s potential production, not just his name on the lineup and the depth chart. And that’s where a trade makes the most sense.
Voit, when healthy and in a groove, has game-changing power. Last season was the perfect proof of that. So if the Yankees don’t want to see their chances disappear in a hurry, they may need a productive first baseman. Several names could become available. Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, for example, are powerful sluggers with power, on-base skills, and as a bonus, they are both lefties, which could help balance the lineup somewhat.
Gallo should be deployed a bit differently because he can play several positions adequately and is actually a plus defensive outfielder (+8 DRS, 95th percentile in Outs Above Average), while Rizzo is a natural first baseman but will hit free agency after the season. Garrett Cooper is also a nice alternative if the Marlins decide to deal him. The Yankees obviously know him well, since they dealt him to Miami in the first place. Jesus Aguilar could also be an option.
Perhaps Voit returns in a week and renders this exercise moot. But the smart money is on him missing at least a couple of weeks, if not more given the fact that “there is no timetable for his return”. Given their situation, the Yankees need to be active in the trade market if they want to salvage their season. Playing the upcoming stretch against contending teams with the lineup in its current state is a severe competitive disadvantage.