It’s fitting that it’s March. Luke Voit’s career in New York began like a lion, and it ended like a lamb, as the once-all-world first baseman was dealt today to the San Diego Padres. Justin Lange, a hard-throwing righty in Low-A, is coming the other way.
Voit became the odd man out when the Yankees decided to bring back Anthony Rizzo on a two-year deal earlier this week. A prodigious hitter whose knees are a significant concern — not just this season but probably for the rest of his career — Voit just couldn’t bring everything together the way he did in the last month of the 2018 season, or the pandemic-shortened 2020.
For all the talk of Gary Sánchez and his incredible 2016 run, I think we sometimes forget how good Voit was after being acquired for Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve two years later. Identified specifically because of his ability to drive the ball with authority to right field, a trait more valuable at Yankee Stadium than Busch Stadium, he clubbed 14 home runs in 148 plate appearances down the stretch in 2018:
Unfortunately, by the next season fans already began to see that Voit’s body just might not hold up to a full campaign, as he played in 118 games while battling oblique issues. True to form, he was still great, with a 126 wRC+ that, combined with his terrific debut, gave him a solid case for the best first baseman in the AL ... albeit one that came with questions about staying on the field.
Perhaps the crown jewel of Voit’s career was his 2020 season, leading the AL in home runs, and posting a 156 wRC+ that, if DJ LeMahieu hadn’t turned Rookie mode on, would have caught more eyes. Perhaps more than almost anyone else in baseball, he also benefitted from a 60-game schedule. His body of work has shown us that he might not be able to handle 162, so the shortened season seemed to play right into his hands as he made it into 56 games.
Voit managed only 68 games last season, and though he did hit exactly as well as Anthony Rizzo, in arbitration at age-31 and without much help on the defensive side, he’s just a player who couldn’t find a chair when the music stopped. I think he’s been a fan favorite, bringing an edge and certain bubbliness that the team is often missing, but he simply didn’t have a role on the roster (one that already had a backup first baseman in LeMahieu, too).
Never the biggest name on the team — an occupational hazard when you play with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and a utility infielder who decides to have back-to-back MVP caliber seasons — Voit is fifth in homers (68), second in wRC+ (137), and, a credit to his all-around approach in the box, third in OBP (.363) since joining the Yankees. He was a force at the plate who just couldn’t make it there often enough to keep his roster spot. In fact, for all those impressive rankings above, he’s just ninth in total plate appearances, a slot ahead of Didi Gregorius.
Justin Lange is an interesting arm with a live fastball, sitting 96-98. He’s battled some knee issues of his own and probably won’t debut in the Yankees internal top 20 prospects, though Baseball America had him 16th in the Padres’ system. However, this is an organization that has a good track record of taking live arms and turning them into useful major league contributors, so if any team could figure out how to make the best version of Justin Lange, its the Yankees.
You wonder now if the Yankees’ books are closed on the 2022 season, at least until trade deadline time. They might make another move, but we’ll have to wait and see. The team has its first spring training game today at 1:05 against the Pirates.