In a surprise trade deadline move, the Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs in exchange for prospects Alex Vizcaíno and Kevin Alcántara. The Yankees were actively pursuing Trevor Story, but turned to Rizzo once the Rockies decided to keep their shortstop. Luke Voit, the incumbent first baseman, was hurt at the time of the deal but it didn’t seem like he had a weak hold on his job, either (though Voit was involved in trade rumors himself). The Yankees gave Rizzo the gig and let him run with it.
Ultimately, the need for left-handed lineup balance and a low-strikeout hitter made Rizzo a good fit, even if it made for perplexing handling of Voit the rest of the season (a subject to revisit once we publish Voit’s season review). We may see more of Rizzo in pinstripes depending on how free agency goes, but for now, let’s reflect on his second half stint in the Bronx.
Although the final score favored the Yankees 10-3, this game was pretty close for the first six and a half innings. The Yankees trailed early (3-0 entering the bottom of the fourth), tied things up by the fifth, and then exploded for five runs in the seventh thanks to some timely hitting and ugly Baltimore defense.
The offense may have scored double digits for a second consecutive game, but the story today was Jameson Taillon. He dominated the Orioles’ lineup, and as I’ll discuss momentarily, pitched even better than what the box score indicates. With that, let’s get right to the takeaways:
They finally did it! After being 4-10 in potential sweep clinching games and 13-25 in day games, the Yankees pulled off the comeback win fueled by some poor defense by the Marlins to win this one for the sweep. That is their first series sweep since June against the Blue Jays. They are now a season-high 8 games over .500 at 56-48 and just 1 game back in the loss column for a playoff spot. And, they play their next 10 against the lowly Orioles, Mariners, and Royals. To the takeaways:
When last I left you, dear audience, the Yankees looked quite a bit different. Then, they made trades for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, tops among others, like Joley Rodriguez, Andrew Heaney, and Clay Holmes. Shockingly devoid of left-handed power before the deadline, the Yankees fixed it with their southpaw hitting headliners. Now, it’s time to maximize them to turn around what has been a moribund offense.
Part of the Yankees’ offensive woes has been a lack of balance. Now with two big lefty hitters, some will be restored. Rizzo and Gallo will make it harder for right-handed relievers to exploit the Yankee lineup for long stretches, at least at the top. They’ll also likely be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium, something this year’s lineup, by virtue of being so right handed, hasn’t fully been able to do. Aside from helping balance things out, Rizzo and Gallo are just good players. They’re marked improvements for the spots they’re taking.
While the Yankees have players like Gallo in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton and a slugging first baseman like Rizzo in Luke Voit, the Yankees have done something that we, specifically Randy, have advocated for time and time again: just get the best players and let the rest sort itself out. The Yankees were trying to avoid any potential logjam by looking to trade Voit, but that didn’t happen. Now, the Yankees have to find a way–how horrible a problem to have!–to fit Voit back in when he’s healthy. Utilizing him and the rest of the lineup properly will propel the Yankees to success and, hopefully, the playoffs.
So, how should they do it? The answer is simple, and one that we saw in Miami: Stanton in the outfield and Judge and/or Gallo in center field. When Voit returns, this is what the lineup should look like on a nightly basis:
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Aaron Judge, CF/RF
Joey Gallo, CF/RF/LF
Giancarlo Stanton, LF/RF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Luke Voit, DH
Gio Urshela, 3B
Gary Sanchez, C
Gleyber Torres, SS
There is a lot of outfield flexibility here and this improves the Yankee defense. Both Rizzo and Gallo are among the tops at their respective positions and likely improvements over what the Yankees had there. Additionally, it allows DJLM to play second full time, increasing his defensive value.
All of Judge, Gallo, Stanton, Rizzo, Voit, and even Sanchez can rotate in and out of the DH spot and the nice thing is that no matter whose turn it happens to be to sit, there’s still someone strong in his place. How often has that not been the case for the Yankees this year?
Finally, it seems that the Yankees are following the Dodgers model that we’ve–again, especially Randy–called for. Put talent on the field, put the best players out there and roll with it. Given that the Yankees are in striking position for a playoff spot, this is a necessity, not a luxury.
Rizzo, who turns 32 in a little over a week, is the second lefty power bat acquired over the last 24 hours, joining Joey Gallo. Rizzo is purely a rental, but the Cubs are covering the remainder of his salary this season. That leaves more room for the Yankees to navigate the trade market before tomorrow afternoon.
Quick reaction: this is a great trade for the Yankees. I could complain about the Cubs sending cash to obtain a better prospect package, and believe me, I hate it. The Yankees should be taking on money, not the other way around. And yet, this is a huge boost to the current roster without subtracting any of the organization’s top prospects.
Not only does Rizzo offer power, but he makes a ton of contact. This year, Rizzo’s 15.7 percent strikeout rate is in the 85th percentile of the majors. That’s right in line with his 15.8 percent career mark.
Prime Rizzo has come and gone — he hit .284/.388/.513 (141 wRC+) from 2014 through 2019 — but he’s still a damn good hitter. This year, he’s batting .248/.346/.446 (115 wRC+) and has 14 homers in 376 plate appearances. Yankees first basemen have been awful this year, though Luke Voit has been out much of the season (more on him in a second), so Rizzo is a huge boost at the position.
Additionally, Rizzo is an elite defender at first base. He’s in the 97th percentile in outs above average at the position this year, and is consistently one of the highest rated first basemen in the game. He and Gallo drastically improve the team’s defense immediately, which is much needed.
Alcántara, 19, is a long way from the majors. The Yankees paid him a $1 million bonus as an IFA in 2018 and he’s currently in the GCL and hitting .360/.448/.520 in just 29 plate appearances. There’s a ton of upside here for the 6-foot-6 center fielder, who ranked 14th on the team’s midseason prospect list over at Baseball America. But given his age and distance to the majors, it’s difficult to project his future. He could make the Yankees look really bad a few years from now! He could also flame out.
Vizcaíno checked in at 12 on the updated Baseball America list. The right-handed pitcher had been hurt to start the season and was just getting back into games in recent weeks. He’s 24 years-old and looks like a future reliever, albeit a potentially dominant late inning type. Trading him opens up another 40-man roster spot, by the way.
Now, about Voit. He appears close to a return from the injured list after seeing him face Luis Severino in a simulated game today. His return just may not be with the Yankees, apparently. Curry mentioned on the YES postgame show, well before the Rizzo deal was reported, that Voit could be on the move. It would be a pretty unceremonious exit for Voit, who was the team’s MVP last year and an excellent hitter since his acquisition. Perhaps Voit goes in a deal for a pitcher.