Did the Yankees find their long-term solution at first base?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
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The New York Yankees have encountered a significant setback with Anthony Rizzo sidelined due to a fracture in his right arm, which is expected to keep him out of action for at least the next month. Despite Rizzo experiencing one of the less productive seasons of his career, his absence initially seemed like a major blow to the team. However, the Yankees have not seen a significant drop in offensive production; in fact, there has been a noticeable improvement.

The Yankees Could Have Their Future First Baseman

In response to losing Rizzo, the Yankees have called up one of their top prospects, Ben Rice. The 25-year-old has been a standout in the minor leagues, earning the team’s Developmental Hitter of the Year award last season. This year, Rice has continued his impressive performance, hitting .261 with a .382 OBP in 49 games at Double-A Somerset and .333/.440/.619 over 11 games at Triple-A Scranton, including three homers and 10 RBIs.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees
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Since his promotion to the MLB, Rice has participated in six games, boasting a .294 batting average and a .381 OBP, with equal 14.3% walk and strikeout rates. His solid performance included two hits in a recent game against the Atlanta Braves, showcasing his readiness for the major leagues.

Defensive Adjustments and Long-term Potential

While Rice has demonstrated exceptional bat-to-ball skills and the potential to become a significant offensive threat, he needs further experience at first base. In his initial 46 innings at the position, he maintained a perfect fielding percentage but showed uncertainty in his defensive movements, particularly in deciding when to leave the bag and when to be aggressive.

Despite these growing pains, Rice has not been a liability. On the contrary, he has proven to be an asset, potentially filling in the gap left by Rizzo more effectively than anticipated.

Financial Considerations and Future Decisions

With Rizzo’s $20 million team option looming for the 2025 season, the Yankees face a tough decision regarding his future with the team. Given the current dynamics, the most likely course of action involves declining Rizzo’s option, redirecting those funds towards extending Juan Soto, and integrating Rice as a long-term solution at first base.

Traditionally a catcher, Rice’s position change is facilitated by the depth within the Yankees’ catching ranks, including Austin Wells, Jose Trevino, and rising prospect Agustin Ramirez. This strategic move allows Rice’s bat to continue supplementing the lineup, potentially offsetting the loss of Rizzo’s veteran presence.

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