Yankees’ stretch run use of Luke Voit has sealed his fate

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 03: Luke Voit #59 of the New York Yankees in action during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on September 3, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 03: Luke Voit #59 of the New York Yankees in action during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on September 3, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

On back-to-back days, with must-win games ahead of them against the lowly Texas Rangers, the New York Yankees opted not to put their best lineup on the field.

Playing Luke Voit regularly has been a difficult puzzle to complete since the acquisition of Anthony Rizzo, sure. But the Yankees did figure it out — fairly seamlessly — during the team’s 13-game winning streak.

Then, as the winning ways evaporated and the postseason, once assured, became a longshot yet again, Voit’s playing time diminished.

The slugger’s absence from the regular lineup wasn’t the only thing that changed immediately after the 13-gamer, of course. Andrew Velazquez and Tyler Wade lost playing time, too, to Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela (who, it must be said, are surprisingly among the team’s hottest hitters, though the optics are poor). With the departures of Velazquez and Wade, the team’s newfound penchant for speed disappeared as well; they stole 20 bases in the entire first half, last in MLB, then swiped 24 in less than a month between July 18 and Aug. 14.

Then there’s Voit, who’s turned once again into a well-above-average hitter after some early-season struggles. In fact, he’s been above average nearly every second he’s been in New York.

And yet, there he was on the bench for a pair of must-win games against a last-place team. As we suspected when the short-term Anthony Rizzo move was made, his future has been telegraphed, whether the team is willing to admit it or not.

The Yankees seem done with Luke Voit, whether or not Anthony Rizzo stays.

Here’s what we know: the Yankees aggressively shopped Voit at this year’s deadline, before and after Rizzo was acquired, and could not find a buyer. He’d have been an excellent fit for some other surging team in need of an infusion of power, but nobody was willing to bite based on his year-to-date injury issues.

The Yanks assured us that, although a deal never materialized, they were committed to rotating Voit in and out, and that Rizzo was simply a luxury they couldn’t pass up. Instead, Voit’s been used during Rizzo’s COVID-19 absence, but rarely in its aftermath.

Voit is hitting .244 on the season with a 113 OPS+; Rizzo is hitting .250 with a 113 OPS+. Facts are facts; excepting the defense, both men have been near identical, but Voit’s been hotter lately.

Funny thing is — and the Yankees still can’t seem to get this through their heads (or they’d simply rather not — this doesn’t have to be an either/or, as we learned already in late August.

Brett Gardner has had a solid second half, but remains overexposed when he plays every day; he struggled through a 1-17 stretch prior to rocking a double on Tuesday. Joey Gallo can play center. That was part of the reason his acquisition felt so powerfully important. Judge and Stanton in the corners. Rizzo at first. Voit at DH. Play your best offense while maintaining an above-average defense.

Occasionally, it feels like Aaron Boone is managing while reading the team’s playoff odds, going, “Well, probably not, but … maybe, I guess? Whatever. Nothing I can do.” Nope! Something you can do.

Coming off five consecutive days of pinch-hits, Voit went 1-10 with a homer and two walks in three games against Minnesota and Baltimore. As punishment, he received two days off. That’s the worst part. It feels as if the damage has already been done.

When the season ends, the team will have a baked-in Rizzo reset button to push when the first baseman hits the free agent market. He’s been patient and kind in a Yankee uniform, but hasn’t exactly been an offensive game-changer, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be brought back.

A return seems more likely, though, than the team keeping Voit, their slugger who’s under control through 2024. Perhaps someday we’ll learn what’s soured here.