Despite the lockout bringing all baseball operations to a standstill, it has been a bit of a wild ride recently for Luke Voit. Talking to Dan Martin of the New York Post last week, Voit reportedly said, “I want to play first base for the Yankees. [...] If that happens, great. If not, I’ll go somewhere else.”
As we all remember from this past season, Voit has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind, regardless of the repercussions for doing so. After speaking out about his playing time last season, he was left to largely ride the pine for the stretch run even though the Yankees’ offense outside of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton was putrid at best.
Coincidentally, just a day before Martin’s article dropped, Rob Manfred announced that MLB had agreed to something that might throw a wrench in Voit’s plans: the universal DH.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters the league has agreed to a universal DH.— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) February 10, 2022
"I believe we will have an agreement in time to play our regular-season schedule." pic.twitter.com/oXCrkLq2Mp
With the National League officially set to adopt the DH, has Voit’s time as a first baseman officially run out? What, exactly, does his future look like?
Let’s start with the good. When Luke Voit’s on the field, he’s an absolute terror in the box. In 281 games with the Yankees, he has slashed .271/.363/.520 (.883 OPS) with 68 home runs, 182 RBI, and a 137 OPS+. While Voit’s bat comes with a high strikeout rate, he mitigates that with a propensity to draw walks and hit the ball exceptionally hard. Over the course of his career, Voit has posted a 10.5 percent walk percentage, .368 wOBA, 133 wRC+, and 6.2 fWAR.
You’ll notice I used the phrase “when Luke Voit is on the field” in the above paragraph ... to be frank, it’s doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Out of a possible 384 games since taking Greg Bird’s starting job, Voit has appeared in just 242 (63 percent) of them. In fact, the only time Voit played a “full” season was in 2020, when he appeared in 56 out of a possible 60 games. At the time, though, it was a not-particularly-well-kept secret that, had the season been a full 162 games, the “foot stuff” he was dealing with likely would have landed him on the injured list. Aside from 2020, his highest single-season total in games played was 118 (72.8 percent) in 2019.
Finally, there’s the issue of his defense. Over the course of his career, Voit has posted a -26 DRS according to FanGraphs — things are equally as bleak according to Statcast. Since coming to the Yankees, he’s posted a -21 OAA and his defense has never produced a positive success rate added. Whether he’s coming in, going out, or moving side-to-side, Voit is simply not a good defender. In fact, his OAA in 2020 ranked in the eighth percentile across the league, indicating he was one of the worst defenders across the entire game.
So, where do Luke Voit and the Yankees go from here? He’s a supremely talented hitter who has trouble staying healthy and is a bit of a liability on the defensive end. I may be comparing apples to oranges here, but Stanton’s questionable track record when it came to staying on the field was enough to scare the Yankees into turning him into a full-time DH despite being an adequate enough fielder (career 49 DRS) to stick in left field. With Voit’s defensive woes and injury baggage in tow, is there really any team out there who will take him on as a first baseman?
I suppose the answer, as of this minute, is yes: the Yankees. Voit is currently the only first baseman listed on the depth chart. With a free agent rush expected to come once the lockout ends, however, I find it hard to imagine that someone, whether it’s Anthony Rizzo (likeliest), Freddie Freeman (unlikely), or Matt Olson (unlikeliest), won’t usurp that role from him. Should the Yankees add a first baseman this offseason, and with Stanton firmly locked into the DH spot in New York, Voit is likely to be the odd-man-out once again.
The problem with that, however, is that a healthy Luke Voit is far too productive to keep on your bench. This likely means that Voit has become a prominent trade target for a lot of teams. While his market was predictably limited at the 2021 trade deadline, I simply don’t see how the majority of NL teams don’t at least inquire about him now that the universal DH is coming into play. With that in mind, the best chance to keep him healthy might mean limiting the action he sees in the field. After all, when healthy, he’s the type of offensive talent that a team should be willing to do whatever they can to keep him in the lineup. That makes him seem like a natural fit for a DH role.
Of course, all of this is speculation on my part. Who knows, maybe the Yankees are willing to overlook his rough fielding metrics and gamble on him staying healthy in the hopes of tapping into his ridiculous offensive potential. That’s entirely possible. If I were a gambling man, I’d say that, despite his recent comments, his days as a full-time, starting first baseman are over. Thanks to the universal DH, though, his trade appeal might’ve just gone through the roof.