Luke Voit is very good at hitting baseballs. This is indisputable. He led baseball in home runs during last year's shortened season, mashing 22 in 56 games with a slugging percentage of .610 and an OPS of .948. That emergence seemed to signify that the New York Yankees once again found an addition to their abundance of slugging riches.
But Voit has been unable to give an encore performance in 2021, dealing with knee inflammation issues that have kept him out of all but 39 games thus far this season. And as he sat on the sidelines, the team passed him by. New York added Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo at the deadline in an attempt to turn a disappointing season around. So far, it's worked great. The Yankees swept the Boston Red Sox this week to pass their rivals in the AL East standings, a feat that seemed nearly impossible before the All-Star Break.
Those two additions leave Voit and the Yankees in a tough spot, though. Rizzo plays first base, the position Voit inhabited on nights either Giancarlo Stanton or Aaron Judge took the DH spot. Rizzo is a significantly better fielder and has a more established history of consistent hitting prowess than Voit, whose 2020 season was far and away his best in four years in the big leagues. Last night, in particular, exhibited how much of an edge Rizzo gives in the field as he scooped a tough throw to end the final game of the Red Sox series.
That's not a play Voit is known for making. Given that, Voit's only option remains the DH spot. But with Gallo, Stanton, and Judge all suited for the DH spot, too, Voit is the odd man out again. He isn't happy about it, either.
Before Wednesday's game, Aaron Boone was asked about this very predicament and said he would make room for Voit at DH by starting Gallo and Stanton in the corner outfield spots with Judge playing center. I am on record as pro-Beefy Outfield, but none of those three players are considered plus fielders. Brett Gardner has been so bad at the plate this year that it's worth wondering what the opportunity cost would actually be to lose his ability to roam in the outfield to ensure the Yankees have as many dangerous hitters in the lineup, to be sure. But when playoff time comes, the pitching rotations get shortened, and fielding matters more than ever?
To their credit, New York's brass saw this problem coming and tried to trade Voit at the deadline. They were unsuccessful and now have an unhappy slugger on their hands, the only mark on an otherwise immaculate stretch post-ASB. Things don't always work out perfectly. But Boone is going to be hard-pressed to find a way to keep Voit happy with consistent ABs while ensuring his team is still as balanced as possible.
The Yankees are going to win games and get into the playoffs by smashing baseballs. Voit would be a nice addition in that endeavor. At some point, though, there will be a cost if Boone is forced to squeeze him into the lineup at the cost of outfield play. The question now is if the Yankees are willing to pay that cost-- and if not, what impact a miserable Voit could have on the locker room. There are no easy answers, even if the Yankees probably feel it's a good problem to have.