The Yankees needed to address their lack of potent left-handed hitters.
They filled that need with two trades Thursday. First, the Bronx Bombers added Joey Gallo from the Rangers. A few hours later, they picked up first baseman Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs.
In acquiring Rizzo, the Yankees are adding an on-base machine and another power bat. In sending him to New York, the Cubs are letting go of a franchise icon and one of the key players in the team’s first World Series championship since 1908, as they begin their next rebuild.
YES Network’s Jack Curry reported the Cubs are acquiring minor league outfielder Kevin Alcantara (the Yankees’ No. 12 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) and minor league right-handed pitcher Alexander Vizcaino (the team’s No. 9 prospect). They’re also paying what’s left of Rizzo’s 2021 salary.
Anthony Rizzo trade details
This move gives the Yankees plenty of flexibility to take the next steps in turning around what has been a disappointing 2021 campaign.
The Rizzo pickup especially helps with offense from the left side. According to Fangraphs, only infielder Rougned Odor has a wRC+ above 100 (league average) among the Yankees’ qualifying left-handed batters prior to Thursday. Outfielder Brett Gardner is the only other left-handed batter with more than 150 plate appearances, and his .311 on-base percentage is higher than his .306 slugging percentage.
Rizzo will also fill a big need at first base. Luke Voit has appeared in just 29 games there this season because of injuries after two straight seasons with 20-plus home runs. The Yankees have mostly used DJ LeMahieu at first (32 starts) with Voit out, but the past batting champion is struggling at the plate (100 wRC+, .709 OPS). New York first basemen have combined to post a .651 OPS this season.
Though removed from his peak years in Chicago, when he was launching 30-plus homers a season, Rizzo is enjoying a bounceback season, with a 115 wRC+, a .792 OPS and 14 home runs. Though his walk rate is below double digits for the first time since his rookie campaign of 2012, it is still a more-than-serviceable 9.6. The move to a deeper lineup with Aaron Judge, Joey Gallo, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton, Rizzo will lift some pressure from him to perform. Not to mention, he can exploit the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, which Baseball Savant ranks as the fifth-best ballpark for left-handed batters to hit home runs.
Lastly, adding Rizzo and having the Cubs pay his salary allows New York keep its payroll under the tax threshold. The Yankees parted with relievers Justin Wilson and Luis Cessa on Tuesday to clear space for other moves, and now they can move Voit to add another piece at the deadline. Rizzo’s contract expires at the end of this season.
There are two elements to this deal for the Cubs: the return and the impact on the team.
The return is a good one. Vizcaino is a hard-throwing 24-year-old at high Single-A with a ton of upside. He has plus grades for his fastball and changeup, per MLB Pipeline; those pitches have helped him rack up 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings for his career. He has struggled with his control (3.6 BB/9 in his career), which has helped raise his career ERA to 4.95. Still, he has the potential to be a wipeout bullpen arm or, if he improves his control, a high-strikeout starter.
Alcantara is only 19 but has already generated a lot of excitement by having a lofty ceiling. MLB Pipeline gives him above-average power, arm and fielding grades and plus speed, while grading his hit tool as just average. In 49 career MiLB games, all at the rookie level, he has a .269/.325/.382 slash line with two homers, six stolen bases, 43 strikeouts and 12 walks.
Of course, Cubs fans right now will feel the emotional toll of losing Rizzo more than the excitement of adding the prospects. Acquired from the Padres before the 2012 season, Rizzo was a fixture in Chicago’s rebuild and posted four straight seasons of 4.0 WAR or above from 2014-17. The Cubs won a World Series and became one of the game’s best teams during that time. Rizzo reportedly was offered a five-year, $70 million extension prior to the start of the 2021 season that would have kept him with the Cubs through age 37, The Athletic reported. He had expressed an interest in remaining in Chicago but recently noted he had “said my piece on how I feel and how I love the city,” according to NBC Chicago.
“We’ve gone back and forth, but I just think that focusing on today right now is best for me, and I have no idea what’s going to happen 14 days from now,” Rizzo said in mid-July. “I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. Just like (Joc Pederson) getting traded (on July 15). So, during this period it’s definitely like, ‘Today, what do I have to do?’ Play baseball, just really simplify it and not worry about it.”
Making it worse for fans was that Rizzo was out of the lineup Wednesday and did not even pinch hit in the game, which kept them from seeing him bat in a Chicago uniform one last time.
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