The major league leader in home runs in 2020 was Yankee first baseman Luke Voit. He launched 22 homers in that season, shortened by the pandemic to just 60 games. No one else in baseball hit more than 19. He also cut his strikeout rate to 23.1%, just below that year’s league average, after being at 25% or above in his previous three seasons. He finished the year with a batting line of .277/.338/.610 for a wRC+ of 153, indicating he was 53% better than the league average hitter. That number placed him in the top 15 among all qualified hitters that season. He finished ninth in the voting for Most Valuable Player in the American League.
Voit still had four seasons of club control remaining and it seemed like the Yankees had first base figured out for years to come. However, Voit has since entered some choppy waters and has been thrown off course a few times. In 2021, he dealt with knee injuries for much of the year and was only able to play 68 games. He hit .239/.328/.437 when healthy enough to play, producing a wRC+ of 112. That was 12% above league average but a noticeable drop from his monster 2020 showing. His strikeout rate also climbed up to 30.7%. The Yankees acquired Anthony Rizzo at the trade deadline and then re-signed him for 2022, replacing Voit at the cold corner. A few days later, Voit was traded to the Padres.
In 2022, he was largely healthy, making one trip to the injured list in late April for a biceps tendon injury but returning just over two weeks later. However, it didn’t result in better production at the plate. In 82 games for the Friars, Voit launched 13 long balls but struck out in 32% of his appearances. His .225/.317/.416 batting line was above league average but only by 10%. At the deadline, he had the misfortune of getting thrown into the Juan Soto trade at the last minute when Eric Hosmer used his limited no-trade clause to keep himself out of it.
Voit spent the second half with the Nats, the worst team in baseball in 2022, and saw his production dip. He still hit another nine home runs in just 53 games but his walk rate slipped from 11.3% as a Padre to just 7.1% as a Nat. His time with Washington resulted in a .228/.295/.381 line and a wRC+ of 90. Voit was set to go through arbitration for the third of four trips this winter as a Super Two player, but the Nationals non-tendered him instead of paying him an $8.2MM salary, per projections from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Voit has now been a free agent for about six weeks without much noise surrounding his market. There have been no public reports about any club having interest in signing him. That’s not terribly shocking given his down year, but there are still things he can bring to the table. His Statcast metrics were still strong in 2022, as his barrel rate was in the 94th percentile among qualified hitters, his hard hit rate 73rd, maximum exit velocity 75th and average exit velocity 66th. Though he’s been striking out way too much in the past two seasons, he can still clobber the ball when he does make contact. It’s also possible he could get a boost from the upcoming bans on extreme defensive alignments, as he was one of the most-shifted hitters among the remaining free agents despite being right-handed. Voit actually has reverse splits for his career, with a 110 wRC+ against lefties and a 129 against righties. That could make platoon arrangements difficult but it also means he makes sense to be in a lineup on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, that’s about all he can really offer. He’s certainly not a burner, with his sprint speed in the 6th percentile and just a single stolen base on his career ledger. Defensively, he’s only played first base in the big leagues, apart from a single inning in right field in 2018. All three of Outs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating consider him to have been a below-average defender to this point in his career. He’ll turn 32 in February and is probably unlikely to suddenly turn things around in that department.
There are still some teams that could take a flier on Voit and hope that he looks more like the 2020 version than what he’s shown since. The best candidate would probably be a rebuilding team that would be hoping to turn Voit into a trade candidate on the heels of a resurgence. Since Voit has between four and five years of MLB service time, he could also be controlled for 2024 via arbitration, potentially adding to his appeal if he’s in a good groove. The A’s have Seth Brown at first base but he can also play the outfield. The Marlins are known to be looking for more offense but have the oft-injured Garrett Cooper as their first baseman at the moment. They reportedly pursued players like José Abreu, Justin Turner and Brandon Drury earlier in the offseason but came up short in those attempts. The Tigers will likely give Spencer Torkelson an extended run to show his terrible 2022 was just growing pains, but it would make some sense to have a backup plan in place. The Cubs and Orioles are known to be interested in first base upgrades, having been recently connected to Eric Hosmer.
Though there are plenty of theoretical fits, Voit will also have competition for those jobs. In addition to Hosmer, the free agent market features Trey Mancini, Yuli Gurriel, Brandon Belt, Dominic Smith and others.