Late last night, we learned the Yankees had agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal to bring Anthony Rizzo back to the Bronx. As we did yesterday with the Josh Donaldson trade, let’s break down what Rizzo’s signing means for the Yankees’ roster construction, payroll, prospects, and future moves.
The Yankees have long said that they wanted to upgrade first base, and this always felt like the logical conclusion to their search. Still, with Matt Olson traded to the Braves, Freddie Freeman still available, and a combination of Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu already on the roster, it’s hard not to see Rizzo as the most disappointing outcome. Perhaps they prioritize defensive stability at first — which Rizzo will provide — but at this point, his lefty bat is lateral move at best.
Rizzo’s return creates a bit of a dilemma for the Yankees in that there is now a logjam in the infield. The Yankees have Rizzo, Voit, LeMahieu, Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Gleyber Torres to cover four positions. We can likely pencil in Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa, and Torres at third, short, and second respectively for now, and I don’t think they signed Rizzo to be a bench player.
That leaves Voit and LeMahieu without starting roles, and LeMahieu’s ability to bounce around the diamond pushes him back into the super-utility role for which he was originally signed prior to the 2019 season. Voit appears to be the odd man out, and despite his higher offensive ceiling, his inability to stay on the field meansthat his days as a Yankee could be numbered.
Rizzo’s contract is a straightforward affair. He is signed for two years and $32 million, and will be paid $16 million this season and next. He may opt out after this season.
Rizzo’s contract adds $16 million to the Yankees’ CBT figure both this season and next. According to Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus, his signing brings the Yankees’ 2022 payroll to just over $251 million. The Donaldson trade already took them into luxury tax payor territory exceeding the $230 million base threshold, and now with Rizzo’s contract, they enter the first surcharge bracket of $250 million-$270 million.
Because the Yankees reset their tax payor status last season, the Yankees will avoid repeat offender penalties. This means they will be taxed at 20 percent on the $20 million over the $230 million threshold and 32 percent on the $1.5 million and change over the $250 million threshold. This calculates out to right around a $4.5 million tax bill for 2022 (should they decline to increase payroll further).
Signing Rizzo doesn’t have any direct effects on the Yankees’ plans for their prospects, as none of their minor league first baseman were due to be called up this season. In fact, depth is so short that they picked former Ranger Ronald Guzmán off the scrap heap to potentially hold down to the Triple-A spot.
Nonetheless, the ripple of the logjam that the Rizzo move creates could have secondary effects. For example, his signing in addition to the acquisitions of Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa creates a surplus of infield depth, making it very unlikely the Yankees call up Oswald Peraza this year, barring some remarkable developments.
Since the end of last season, the Yankees were most vocal about needing to upgrade shortstop and first base, and it appears they have done that this week, if in a particularly unspectacular fashion. The starting rotation, center field, and catcher still stand out as uncertain areas, though it remains to be seen how far Hal Steinbrenner is willing to take the payroll this year. (His comments today weren’t particularly encouraging in that regard.)
Passing on more expensive but higher impact stars on longer deals — Freeman and Carlos Correa — and instead opting for shorter-term additions hints at an unwillingness to fully commit resources to fielding the best possible roster. This becomes even more pronounced now that the Yankees have crossed into the second CBT tier.