In the days leading up to the 2021 trade deadline, the relinquishment of Luke Voit by the Yankees felt imminent. With the addition of Joey Gallo to the roster — an outfielder with experience at first — and Anthony Rizzo — more notably, an elite defensive first baseman — Voit’s consistent trips to the injured list and rather lackluster offense pointed to the very strong possibility that his time with the Yankees was coming to an end.
The Yankees didn’t end up coming to terms on a deal for Voit. So when the trade deadline came and went, and Luke was still a member of the squad, the fans seemingly shrugged their shoulders and cast their attention towards the newer acquisitions, rather content to simply let Voit spend as much time as he needed on the IL.
What we all seemed to forget, however, was that Luke Voit was not content to simply fade away. In fact, he wasn’t going down without a fight.
Where we were pre-trade
On the diamond, Rizzo is a world-class first baseman and indisputably has Voit beat in this column. A four-time Gold Glove Award winner in 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020 and a Fielding Bible Award in 2016, Rizzo’s defense has bolstered the team since the moment he stepped foot on the field in a Yankee uniform. As the organization has found the need to shuffle around the infield (i.e. putting Rougned Odor at third base for the first time in his career,) Rizzo has done his part in easing the transition with his defensive prowess.
In addition to these impressive accolades, pre-trade deadline, Rizzo had Voit soundly beaten in offensive numbers for 2021, with .248/.346/.446 versus .241/.328/.370. The sharp contrast in these numbers, plus Voit’s stint on the IL at the time of Rizzo’s trade made it seem like the Yankees had found a solid, full-time replacement for the duration of the season.
Surprise, COVID strikes again
And then, just as it has for the Yankees this entire season, COVID reared its ugly head, this time sending Rizzo to the COVID-IL. Luckily enough, Voit had just returned from his own rehab assignment and had apparently taken the Rizzo acquisition as at least a type of personal affront. Speaking to the press, Voit admitted:
I get it. I haven’t been around a lot this year. And I guess I was in the trade talks as well; you never know what can happen there. But I’m wearing pinstripes today and my job is to come to the field, work my butt off every day and play my heart out. So whenever my name is in the lineup, I’m going to give it my all.
And he did. His recent at-bats are infused with a mixture of determination and defiance — a how dare you express a lack of confidence in me? Now watch this. Over the last 12 games, the 2020 MLB home run leader has batted .348/.400/.674, and — are you ready for this? — in the last seven games has produced an astounding .500/.536/.962.
Maybe the best part about it is that Voit knows he’s good, too. Speaking to the press a few days ago not long after there were whispers of perhaps briefly demoting him to save roster space, he stated, “I’m not going down ... I deserve to play just as much as [Rizzo] does.”
We agree. With the team on a nine-game winning streak, a season-high 20 games over .500, Voit has made it impossible to say the club doesn’t need him in the lineup.
Where do we go from here?
So what should the Yankees do about finding sufficient time for both Voit and Rizzo? They’ll have to get creative in Atlanta over the next couple days with no DH, but by the end of the week in Oakland, it might be back to another lineup shuffle. Although it makes sense to keep the defensively-sound Rizzo in the starting nine, Voit should keep getting reps at DH and every few days at first. His bat isn’t one that should be riding the pine much these days.
As long as Voit keeps on raking, then Boone is going to figure out a way to keep him in the mix — and that’s exactly the type of good problem that Voit wanted to create. If that means more Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield, Rizzo occasionally on the bench, or more straightforward day-to-day variations in the regular lineup than the Yankees originally planned, then so be it.