MINNEAPOLIS — Luke Voit is expected to begin a rehab stint on Tuesday, so his return to first base is not too far off.
And while that’s good news for the Yankees, there’s no denying the continued issues the team is having at first base.
Voit has played in just a dozen games this season, sidelined by a torn meniscus in his left knee and currently a strained left oblique. And even when he played, Voit was unable to find his stroke at the plate, with just one extra-base hit and 15 strikeouts in 50 plate appearances.
The search for a viable replacement has included attempts by Jay Bruce (now retired), Mike Ford (now in the minors), Miguel Andujar (now in left field) and Chris Gittens, the career minor leaguer who could be in the lineup Thursday against Twins lefty — and ex-Yankee — J.A. Happ.
None of those options have proven to be acceptable, which has forced DJ LeMahieu to start the most games at first of any Yankee (19 heading into Thursday).
LeMahieu’s hardships this season are well known and his numbers look even worse when compared to the production expected at first base.
The position was not supposed to be a significant issue for the Yankees this season. Voit’s health has been a concern in recent years, from the core injury that impacted his second half of 2019 to the plantar fasciitis he dealt with last season, but he’s typically been able to stay on the field and be productive.
Fangraphs projected Voit to hit 31 homers and drive in 97 runs this season, to go along with an OPS of .885.
Those numbers are clearly out of reach, but the greater problem now is getting Voit back and keeping him in one piece for as much of the rest of the season as possible.
At least part of the Yankees’ problems at the plate are due to Voit’s absence, something Aaron Boone has often noted, citing Voit’s plate discipline and power.
According to Fangraphs, Voit’s WAR of 1.8 was second on the team last season, behind only LeMahieu’s 2.5. And he led the Yankees with a .610 slugging percentage, albeit with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge battling injuries.
Yankee first basemen entered Thursday with an OPS of .516, ahead of only the Indians. Just last year, they were fifth best in the majors with an OPS of .902 and in 2019, they were at least in the middle of the pack at .812.
But LeMahieu’s production has fallen off a cliff and other than showing some (very) occasional power, Ford had become a strikeout machine. And Gittens, the 27-year-old slugger whose exit velocity rivaled Stanton’s during spring training, has looked overmatched in his nine plate appearances without a hit, striking out five times. He remained on the roster as of Thursday afternoon.
The lineup showed signs of life in the first two games in Minnesota, with the caveat that it came against the last-place Twins.
If they continue to be near the bottom of the league in production at first, though, that won’t last.