Should Yankees bring Anthony Rizzo back for 2022 MLB season?
It’s a nifty narrative, right? Kid with Jersey ties and a nice lefty swing, plus winning chops, returns to play first base for the Yankees for the next few years as they try again to win the World Series for the first time since 2009.
But does a reunion between free agent Anthony Rizzo and the Yanks make sense? Or should the Yankees instead employ Luke Voit, who endured an injury-ravaged, forgettable 2021 but is only one year removed from leading the majors in home runs?
There’s even a third internal way the Yankees could solve first base, to say nothing of shopping in free agency.
Before we dig in, with some help from a major league scout from another organization, let’s just highlight the following: The righty-heavy Yankees desperately need lineup balance, which is one reason the left-handed Rizzo was appealing at the trade deadline. In 2021, Yankee left-handed hitters had a .207 average, a .309 on-base percentage and a .362 slugging percentage.
Their average was the worst in MLB. Their OBP was tied for 24th. Their slugging percentage was 27th. While playing in a ballpark with a short right field porch, a joint famous for big lefty swingers mashing home runs, their lefties hit just 53 homers in 2021 — 26th in MLB.
So maybe Rizzo has a built-in advantage.
For context, we asked an MLB scout who watched the Yankees this season for his take. Here’s what the scout said:
“I happen to be a Rizzo fan. If I’m the Yankees, I’d bring him back. I think his lefty bat is suited for Yankee Stadium. More importantly, he gives a clubhouse presence. I think he brings something. He’s a veteran leader. And I think a lot of the younger players would look up to him.
“He’s a Gold Glove first baseman. There are not many first basemen who are better than him. The Yankees and their fans hadn’t seen that. He makes all these plays that everyone has trouble with. He takes a lot of balls out of the dirt, saves errors on bad throws.
“I know he’s getting older, but he does a lot of positive things.”
Rizzo, 32, made $16.5 million last season and figures to cost much more than Voit, whom the Yankees have under control through 2024. According to The Athletic, the Chicago Cubs made Rizzo an extension offer last spring worth $70 million over five years. It went nowhere.
Rizzo played 49 games with the Yanks and his make-contact approach fits an offense that is flush with swing-and-miss elsewhere. He had eight homers, 21 RBI, a .249 average and a .768 OPS.
Including his time with the Cubs, Rizzo hit 22 homers and had a .783 OPS in 141 games in 2021. He’s a four-time Gold Glove winner and helped the Cubs end their title drought in 2016, which might resonate with the overly-dramatic segment of Yankee fans who believe their club is enduring something similar.
Rizzo’s age and potential price might be drawbacks for the Yankees, who must devote dollars to the other holes they have to fill, too. Re-signing him may depend on how the Yanks view the rest of their infield. Who is the second baseman, Gleyber Torres or DJ LeMahieu? The Yanks must solve shortstop, too, and that answer clearly isn’t Torres anymore.
Looming somewhere in whatever happens with Rizzo is this — will the Boston Red Sox be involved? He was originally drafted by them and there were so many rumors they were trying to trade for him at this year’s deadline that he said before the AL Wild Card Game in Boston that friends were texting him about it.
As for Voit, he’s been a reliable source of slugging since emerging in 2018. His .519 slugging percentage since then is 23rd among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances. He’s ahead of boldface names such as Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, and José Abreu, among others. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Voit topped MLB with 22 homers.
Voit, who turns 31 before next season, is also a wellspring of energy and passion. But he is not nearly Rizzo’s equal as a defensive first baseman.
And he could not stay healthy in the follow-up to his big 2020 — left knee issues and an oblique strain, plus Rizzo’s presence, limited him to just 68 games. His surgically repaired knee was bothering him so much toward the end of the season that he was put on the 60-day Injured List.
Voit, who made $4.7 million and is eligible for arbitration, batted .239 with a .764 OPS and 11 homers and 35 RBI, showing only flashes of being the kind of force he’d been just a year earlier.
“He was injured all the time,” the scout said. “If they sign Rizzo, I’d expect Voit to be traded. There has to be some value. He was the home run champ last year. This was the wrong year for him to get hurt.”
It’s possible, too, that neither Rizzo nor Voit is the Yankee first baseman next year. They could let Rizzo walk, trade Voit and use LeMahieu at first base while Torres plays second, Gio Urshela mans third and a new, perhaps splashy, acquisition plays shortstop. Shortstop might be a bigger concern, anyway, since the Yanks at least have options already in place for first.
Or maybe the offseason gets freaky and the Atlanta Braves bungle extension talks with Freddie Freeman and they actually let him get on the open market. Could the Yankees resist that?