Should the Yankees pick up recently waived first baseman to boost their lineup?

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs
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The New York Yankees have a problem at first base, but the Chicago Cubs might have given them a readily available option to solve it. While it’s too early to declare a player’s season “over”, the signs from Anthony Rizzo thus far are discouraging, as the left-handed veteran has not done much to impress with his batted ball quality. Since going on the IL with a concussion last season, Rizzo has the lowest SLG% in baseball (.245), but recently DFA’d infielder Garrett Cooper could provide an ice-cold Yankee lineup with the exact boost they need.

Off to a strong start with good underlying data, the Yankees could get the exact kind of player they need for their offense at little to no cost if they’re able to claim or work out a trade for the former Yankee farmhand.

Garrett Cooper Could Prove a Spark for the Yankees

MLB: Game Two-Miami Marlins at Chicago Cubs
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There are a couple of things the Yankees have struggled with early on, but the most notable has been generating quality contact, which is something that you’d never expect the team to have issues with. A huge part of that is Aaron Judge getting off to a slow start, and I am confident that when he gets it going it’ll alleviate a lot of those issues, but getting more support doesn’t hurt either. Garrett Cooper could be a quality bat for this team.

His bat plays at Yankee Stadium, as according to Expected Home Runs he would have picked up four more home runs over the past two seasons had he played in the Bronx. Cooper used to be in the Yankees organization, but the team traded him alongside Caleb Smith for Michael King, who has blossomed into a quality starter and was part of the deal that brought superstar outfielder Juan Soto to the Bronx.

It’s early, but Cooper is off to a strong start, smacking a home run while having a .341 OBP across 12 games with the Chicago Cubs, who designated him for assignment due to their logjam at first base. Last year wasn’t what Cooper was hoping for as he only had a 96 wRC+ across 123 games, but since 2022 he has a 105 wRC+ and has done a good job of generating damage contact.

This is his spray chart from 2022-2024, and the batted ball distribution shows a lot of opposite-field flyballs that would get out in the Bronx. Cooper has consistently run high barrel rates, not seeing it drop below 10% since the 2020 season, a testament to how good he is at driving the baseball. Right now, the Yankees could use someone like him to bolster their order and provide some depth, and there’s legitimate reason to be concerned about Anthony Rizzo right now.

According to a study done by Baseball Prospectus back in 2016, Exit Velocity begins to stabilize around 50 batted balls, and while there are certainly exceptions to this, the trends are pretty ugly for Rizzo. His Average Exit Velocity ranks in the 26th Percentile (87 MPH) and the Hard Hit% ranks in the 32nd Percentile (34.3%), resulting in a harsh decline that has seen him struggle to do much of anything at the plate.

Given his age and the injury he’s coming back from, there’s reason to believe this is just father time catching up to Rizzo, but it’s still early and there is time for him to get things going. Still, the defensive issues at first base have been alarming, and Garrett Cooper has always been a strong defender at the position. The Yankees could claim the veteran, but they’ll have to hope that some teams with a worse record than them pass up on his services, as they do not get first dibs at claiming him.

They could try working out a trade with the Chicago Cubs, although it’s unclear what that would potentially look like given the Yankees would have all of the leverage. Even if it’s cash considerations, I’m sure the Cubs would be happy to clear his salary off of their payroll, but there are some complicating factors for the Yankees. Jon Berti and DJ LeMahieu returning would likely squeeze both Jahmai Jones and Taylor Trammell out of roles, so it’s unclear whether the Yankees would be willing to claim Cooper.

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MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
Mar 11, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) singles during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Oswaldo Cabrera could be an option, and so could Jon Berti if push came to shove, but I think the Yankees could justify not bringing Cooper in if they believe LeMahieu could be an insurance policy at first. Furthermore, Ben Rice and T.J. Rumfield are having strong starts to their Minor League seasons, and they’re considered to be solid left-handed hitters who can play first base as well. They’re not on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees would need to clear space for either bat to come up.

Garrett Cooper does provide an immediate veteran punch though, and the ability to play the outfield as well could make him an option with versatility for this ballclub. The Yankees might have a serious first base problem, and if they want some relief there, then Cooper might be their best bet.

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