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The Yankees need to improve their depth at first base

Amid talks of Anthony Rizzo, Matt Olson, and Freddie Freeman, everybody has forgotten one thing: the Yankees don’t have any true depth at first base!

New York Yankees vs Boston Red Sox Set Number: X163643 TK1

Ever since the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline last July, fans and analysts alike have wondered how the team would approach the position this winter. Would they repeat their behavior from 2019, when the team traded for Edwin Encarnación in mid-June due to injuries but allowed him to walk in free agency and returned the position to Luke Voit? Or would this be the end of Voit’s time in New York, traded in the winter as the Yankees looked for a left-handed bat with a better glove?

At this point in time, the answer is, “Who knows?” Currently, Voit is the Yankees’ first baseman by virtue of the fact that he has not been traded and the Yankees have not acquired anybody else. However, the Yankees were looking into trading for Matt Olson and had been in talks with Freddie Freeman in addition to keeping tabs on Anthony Rizzo — it is clear that, in an ideal world, the team wishes to move on from Voit.

That being said, no matter what direction the team decides to go in at first base — Voit, Rizzo, Olson, or someone else — it better not be the only move (or non-move) the team makes at the position. Currently, the Yankees’ depth chart on mlb.com currently looks like this:

Although this is by no means an official depth chart, it is nonetheless highly problematic. The current backup, DJ LeMahieu, is listed as the starting third baseman in an infield that goes, from left to right, DJ LeMahieu/Gio Urshela/Gleyber Torres/Luke Voit. Miguel Andújar has played exactly two games (17 innings) at the position, once on May 7th, 2021, and once on the 30th of that month — he has only played three other games at the position, all in Scranton last season, and totally only 20 innings. The Yankees are extraordinarily thin at first base.

What happened to the rest of the depth? Out of the other players to man the position in 2021, Jay Bruce retired in April, Mike Ford was designated for assignment and traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in June, Rob Brantly only played first for one game in an emergency in July because both LeMahieu and Chris Gittens were injured, and Chris Gittens was released to pursue an opportunity in Japan in November. The last 10 months have really taken a bite out of the Yankees’ first base depth.

When looking at the rest of the 40-man roster, the Yankees don’t have that many other options besides the three listed above, either. Joey Gallo has the most time at the position, having played 745.2 innings in 95 games over three seasons there as a member of the Texas Rangers. The only problem is, he wasn’t all that good at it (-2 Outs Above Average, 0 Defensive Runs Saved), and it’s not exactly a good idea to take a three-time Gold Glove outfielder and hide him at first base.

Outside of him, nobody else on the current roster has spent any time there outside an emergency or “garbage time” situation. Gio Urshela comes in an extremely distant second, having spent a grand total of seven innings at the position across three games — his last appearance there, on July 30th, 2019, occurred only because Voit exited the game with a sports hernia while LeMahieu was nursing an injury of his own. Coming in third is catcher Gary Sánchez, and although I’m sure there are many fans who would prefer to see him at first instead of behind the plate, he has exactly four professional innings at the position — one in 2013 when he was in Single-A, and three in June 2017 in a pair of blowout wins over the Baltimore Orioles.

Fortunately for the Yankees, there are a few different ways they can help fix this conundrum. The first, and probably easiest way, is to simply sign a quality infielder that will allow Urshela to return to third base and LeMahieu to resume a superutility role. Similarly, they could add a first baseman and either platoon him with Voit or use the latter as a backup first base/designated hitter. In any case, they certainly need to add a first baseman on a minor league deal, to use as depth in Scranton — while it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen once the lockout is lifted and the transaction freeze thaws, the Yankees could look to add somebody like Daniel Vogelbach, Ronald Guzmán, or Colin Moran.

The two things the Yankees cannot do is either sit on what they have and hope it works out, or look for a washed-up bat with minimal experience at first base like they did with Jay Bruce last winter. In either cases, when the injury bug hits — and with the Yankees’ luck in recent years, it’s a matter of when, not if — the Yankees will be woefully unprepared and in line for yet another season of lackluster performance at first base.