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Yankees Transaction Trees: Luke Voit

At one point, the Yankees appeared to be the clear winners of the Luke Voit trade. Now, a reliever they gave up has out-earned him.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles
Luke Voit admires a hit against the Orioles in September 2021.
Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

When the Yankees first acquired Luke Voit for two relievers at the 2018 trade deadline, it looked like a steal. In 39 games down the stretch for the Bombers, Voit clubbed 14 round-trippers and netted 1.6 WAR, a 58-homer and 6.6 WAR pace. In addition to the power, he ran a .405 on-base percentage which helped him amass a Judge-esque 195 wRC+. He didn’t quite maintain that pace over the next two seasons, but he still swatted 43 big flies in 174 games, got on base at a .366 clip, and put up stellar 134 wRC+ and 3 WAR marks.

During that solid three-year run, Voit’s production only dipped as low as the 126 wRC+ he put up in 2019 when he dealt with a sports hernia. But in 2021, he hit the IL three separate times, twice for knee issues and once with an oblique strain. A 112 wRC+ that year marked a new Yankees low for the slugging first baseman — while still notably above the league average number of 100, it was just two points higher than the average first baseman’s. Tired of waiting for Voit’s health and a rebound, and trailing the Athletics by 3.5 games for the second wild-card spot, the Yankees traded for Anthony Rizzo at the 2021 deadline to shore up first base. This marked the beginning of the end for Voit’s pinstripes tenure; that offseason, the club re-signed Rizzo and sent Voit packing in exchange for the Padres’ Justin Lange.

Let’s dissect the Bombers’ initial acquisition of Voit first. All told, the righty slugged 68 homers, slashed .271/.363/.520, put up a 138 wRC+, and was worth 4.9 WAR as a Yankee. Chasen Shreve, one of the relievers the Yankees dealt to the Cardinals, pitched just 16.2 innings for his new squad. His 3.78 ERA during that time wasn’t bad, but his 5.33 FIP encouraged the Cards to DFA him not once, but two times. In fact, Shreve briefly made it back to the Yankees this past summer on a minor league deal.

But the real prize for St. Louis has been Giovanny Gallegos. Since being dealt, Gallegos has been one of the better relievers in baseball, pitching to an identical 2.82 ERA and FIP over the course of 229.2 innings. Since his full-season debut for the Cardinals in 2019, he is one of just 25 to amass at least 200 innings out of the ‘pen. His ERA ranks second in that group, besting the likes of Josh Hader, Raisel Iglesias, Edwin Diaz, and Kenley Jansen, and trailing only Liam Hendriks. His FIP ranks third while his SIERA, K-BB rate, and WAR all rank fifth. WAR, which typically undervalues relievers, has the right-hander worth 5.7 wins during that time, out-earning Voit by a decent margin.

It’s fair to wonder whether Voit would have had more of a rebound had he stuck around in the Bronx for 2022. At the very least, all he would have needed to match Gallegos’ 5.7 WAR mark would have been a below-average 0.8 WAR season. He was on pace to do just that through the first half of the year, as he put up a 110 wRC+ and 0.4 WAR for the Padres in 82 games despite fighting through more injuries. But then, when Eric Hosmer exercised his limited no-trade clause, Voit became a casualty of the Juan Soto sweepstakes and had to join a depleted Nationals team for the second half. There, he stumbled to a 90 wRC+ and a -0.3 WAR, and who could blame him — the Nats were about as far from playoff-bound as any team could get.

With the Padres, Voit put up a gaudy 17.2 percent barrel rate, his best mark since his 2018 breakout with the Yankees, so the power was still there. But, his average launch angle was also easily a career-high at 18.5 degrees, leading to a career-worst 6.2 percent popup rate. Because he was still hitting the ball with authority, it seemed like with the right coaching and investment his swing could have been flattened out and he could have returned to his pre-2021 level of production. Yet in Washington, his barrel rate bottomed out at 11.1 percent and his launch angle remained elevated at 18.2 degrees. Interestingly, his popup rate went back down and his line drive rate went up, higher than it had been since 2018, but the loss of barrels really hurt him.

Still, I’m surprised that no team has taken a chance on the erstwhile home run champ since the Nationals non-tendered him. He wouldn’t fit on the Yankees anymore, as Rizzo has stuck around and excelled, with more production likely to come for the lefty given the impending shiftlessness of 2023. If they did sign Voit, a 0.8 WAR season wouldn’t be out of reach, especially with the Yankees’ coaching staff on hand. As things stand though, the Cardinals may have won the Voit trade from a WAR standpoint after all; Justin Lange, who hasn't advanced beyond complex ball due to back-to-back 6-plus ERA seasons there, doesn’t appear likely to move the needle. Perhaps the Yankees could have sold higher on Voit, but they didn’t have Rizzo locked down at that point and Voit was the best in-house option. Regardless, here’s to hoping a team takes a chance on Luuuuke and he gets his career back on track soon.