It’s a puzzle, nothing more.
Well, if Luke Voit continues to squawk, it’ll graduate from a puzzle to a dilemma for Aaron Boone, and then eventually a flat-out headache. For now, though, with Anthony Rizzo joining Voit on the Yankees’ active roster Wednesday — and starting at first base against Red Sox right-hander Nick Pivetta, Voit relegated to the bench — the challenge rests on Boone to keep Voit and his other players both happy and productive.
Boone acknowledged on Wednesday that he had spoken to Voit in light of the first baseman’s public plea for playing time late Tuesday night, and suffice it to say that the Yankees manager did not appear overjoyed by this development.
“Let it play out,” he urged.
Boone added, “The more you start planning out the next week or two weeks or three weeks, baseball’s going to throw you something that’s going to change those plans, anyway.” This puzzle, in other words, might solve itself before long with another injury or positive COVID test.
In the meantime, let’s take a whack at Boone’s good problem of too many useful players. With Rizzo replacing Jonathan Davis on the position-playing side, the Yankees find themselves with six guys (Rizzo, Voit, Joey Gallo, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton) for five roles (first base, designated hitter and the three outfield spots). With an average of six games a week (rounding down) the rest of the way, that’s 30 lineup slots — five positions times six games — that must be filled.
Here’s how I would break those down:
- Aaron Judge (3 RF, 2 CF, 1 DH): Second on the Yankees in games played (107) despite testing positive for COVID last month, the 29-year-old has taken great strides toward eradicating the narrative that he can’t stay on the field (which will in turn impact his future contract a year away from free agency, but we’ll tackle that some other time). Boone said Wednesday that he’d rather start Judge than Gallo in center field; either way would clear up a corner-outfield slot for Stanton, which would in turn allow Voit to start at DH. Judge has been the Yankees’ best everyday player by far, and his playing time should reflect that.
- Anthony Rizzo (4 1B, 1 DH): Keep in mind that Rizzo, who disclosed while with the Cubs that he didn’t get vaccinated, conceded that the coronavirus knocked him out pretty good. So there’s no need to play him every single day, and he’ll benefit from a DH day as well as a day off, presumably against a lefty starting pitcher.
- Joey Gallo (5 LF, 1 RF): If he and Stanton are manning the corner-outfield spots, then Gallo, the superior athlete, should take the harder assignment (right field at Fenway Park, for instance). Rizzo’s fellow trade-deadline acquisition has arisen from the “Bust” bin to help the Yankees win some ballgames.
- Giancarlo Stanton (2 RF, 1 LF, 2 DH): Like with Judge and center field, the injury concerns over having Stanton wear a glove have proven unfounded to date. Boone said, “I feel really good about what G has done out there,” and Stanton himself pointed out that his ability to play the outfield opens up opportunities for Voit. So let’s see if he can handle three outfield starts a week.
- Luke Voit (2 DH, 2 1B): Voit should 1) recall his three injured-list stints this season; 2) recognize that these clouds likely will part over the offseason, be it his departure from the Yankees or Rizzo signing elsewhere as a free agent; and 3) revel in the opportunity to step in as a pinch hitter when the opponent brings in a lefty reliever.
- Brett Gardner (4 CF): The soon-to-be 38-year-old, who entered Wednesday’s game having lifted his OPS from .615 to .651 in August, also can provide value on the days he doesn’t start as a pinch hitter, pinch runner and defensive replacement.
“This is all about us as a team right now and trying to get as many wins as we can,” Boone said, and it’s on the skipper to maintain that selfless culture while getting those needed wins. To solve the puzzle.