Do the Yankees have a problem at first base?

MLB: New York Yankees at San Diego Padres
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Anthony Rizzo made a costly defensive mistake last night that led to the Yankees blowing an eighth-inning lead and losing their second-straight game. One play alone does not define someone’s season, but in Rizzo’s case, his 99 wRC+ and 0.1 fWAR have made him one of the least productive first basemen in baseball. With -1 DRS and a .370 SLG%, he regressed even further from his 2023 season in which he had a 100 wRC+ and had +7 Outs Above Average, and this is a concerning trend for an aging infielder coming off of a concussion.

Is it a slow start or should the team be concerned? It’s hard to know for sure in May, but things have only gotten worse in recent weeks, and this could be a sign that the Yankees will need to address the first base position this summer.

Is Anthony Rizzo Slumping Or Finished?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees
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This season has been rough for Anthony Rizzo, who got red-hot at the end of April and looked like the first baseman we were familiar with in 2022. On May 10th, he had a 125 wRC+ and seven home runs on the season, since that point in time he’s slugging .213 with a 35 wRC+, not hitting a single home run over that stretch. Power has been hard to come by for Rizzo, who has a 5/4% Barrel Rate and 33.5% Hard Hit Rate through his first 55 games of the season.

Hitting the ball with authority is important for someone without the speed to beat out slow rollers like Anthony Volpe. Yet, he’s generating a worse xwOBACON (which measures quality of contact) than the second-year shortstop. It’s also apparent that Rizzo isn’t the defender he once was, with -1 DRS and 0 Outs Above Average on the season. Looking at his Sprint Speed data, he’s lost over a foot per second from his 2022 data, and it seems that age has caught up to him.

The lack of power and defensive value makes it impossible to justify giving him a positive grade on the season, but as with most players, it’s still early enough that he can turn things around. This time last year he looked like an All-Star, and we all know how that year ended for him, but the problem seems to be that it’s an age-related decline and not a skill-related one.

READ MORE: The Yankees have 2 prospects who could replace Gleyber Torres in 2025

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees, gleyber torres
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Let’s take Gleyber Torres as an example here, as he’s posted a measly 86 wRC+ this season, but the numbers are trending in the right direction for him. Dating back to April 27th he has a 118 wRC+ and since Mother’s Day, he has a 146 wRC+ with three home runs. This isn’t a pardoning of his 2024 production, anyone who has been following the Yankees this season knows that Torres has had his fair share of blunders that he still needs to atone for.

With that being said, there is some reason to believe he can turn it around because he already has; Rizzo is also stuck in a slump and is seven years older. In the infield, it’s easier to find a potential Gleyber Torres replacement if he were to continue to struggle offensively. First base seems to be a bit of a trickier situation since the Yankees value defense a lot at that position and there aren’t many elite-level first basemen sitting on terrible teams.

Should the Yankees Find a Replacement at First Base?

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The first thought that popped into my mind last night was just sliding over Ben Rice to first base and having him make his Major League debut. The problem? He has never played above Double-A and is still primarily a catcher, and while some defensive metrics like him at first base, there’s no real way to know how well he can handle that position. Of course, there’s the question of if he could hit Major League pitching consistently since he’d be a first-year player in a pennant race.

Ben Rice has been one of the best hitters at the Double-A level over the last two years, and there’s some credence to the idea that good player development can reliably produce MLB-caliber talent. They were able to immediately get jolts from Jasson Dominguez and Luis Gil in 2023 and 2024, but Anthony Volpe took an entire season to become this team’s leadoff hitter in the long-term.

While the Baltimore Orioles seem to plug-and-play prized prospects with ease, it should also be mentioned that those are consensus top-100 prospects, whereas Rice does not fit that same mold. He’s a good prospect, but the lack of defensive certainty and his age (25) makes it hard to rank him in the top 100 so there’s more skepticism there than there would be for someone like Gunnar Henderson or Adley Rutschman.

Jackson Holliday is one of the best prospects in the game and completely flopped after being promoted, sometimes these things just take time. The more sure-fire solution might be going out and getting a big-time bat at the position, and there’s a couple of names who come to mind.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at New York Mets
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Pete Alonso is just across town and has 12 home runs through his first 54 games, but some glaring hurdles prevent this from being a legitimate scenario. The first barrier is the odds that David Stearns and Steve Cohen even entertain sending their homegrown star to the Bronx to help Hal Steinbrenner bring a title and further sink the Mets into irrelevancy. It’s not something I can see happening, and even if they were open to it, Alonso is far from a perfect player.

With a 119 wRC+ and .305 OBP this season, he’s having his worst season as a Major Leaguer, and this is coming after his worst full season as a pro last year where he had a 121 wRC+ and .318 OBP. His hard-hit rates have taken a huge hit, the swing decisions are not as good, and he’s a -3 OAA and -4 DRS defender at first base this year after making some serious strides in 2023.

If you wanted a sure-handed glove, Christian Walker of the Arizona Diamondbacks would be a perfect fit, providing the Yankees with power, patience, and elite-level defense. He is third in baseball in fWAR (1.8) among first basemen, sporting a 135 wRC+ and +7 Outs Above Average, as he’ll likely take home another Gold Glove at the position this year. A free agent at the end of the season, perhaps Arizona floats dealing him if the team continues to slump, but I doubt the Diamondbacks are this bad come July, so I’ll count this as unrealistic.

Another avenue the Yankees could take is sliding DJ LeMahieu over to first base and potentially adding a corner infielder, but that is also complicated thanks to a weird third base market. There’s no solid solution yet, but the clock is ticking for Anthony Rizzo, and given how good this team is right now, they’ll certainly explore their options at the deadline. For now? Just hope he plays better. The panic button isn’t ready for pressing yet, just enjoy the ride.

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