Part 27 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees.”
Chasen Shreve had already pitched in 40 games in 2018 when the Yankees traded him to the Cardinals — along with Giovanny Gallegos — for Luke Voit, who had just 13 plate appearances with St. Louis that season.
Voit was sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Shreve’s roster spot was taken by J.A. Happ, who had just arrived in a trade with Toronto.
He was called up a few days later and struggled in his first stint with the Yankees, getting sent back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but Voit returned to The Bronx for good later that month and provided the lineup with some needed power down the stretch.
The following spring, Voit beat out Greg Bird for the first-base job, and hit well again before a core muscle injury derailed his season and kept him off the playoff roster.
Recovered from offseason surgery, Voit was in line to be the regular first baseman in 2020 when the coronavirus forced the shutdown of spring training. The 29-year-old was another solid trade for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, as Shreve struggled with the Cardinals — though the right-hander Gallegos had an excellent 2019 in St. Louis.
Voit still hasn’t produced over the course of a full season, but the trade was another one in which the Yankees acquired a solid player without giving up that much.
It’s a trend that has helped them contend, with one of the few exceptions being the ill-advised move to get Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in exchange for 24-year-old Jorge Guzman, who pitched well at Double-A last season, as well as Jose Devers, a 20-year-old infielder, and Starlin Castro.
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On the other hand, they picked up Happ in 2018 for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney, and Happ delivered for the Yankees the rest of that season while Drury and McKinney have struggled.
Drury was a disaster with the Yankees, and the two minor leaguers sacrificed in that deal, infielder Nick Solak and right-hander Taylor Widener, have yet to establish themselves in the majors, but still have potential.
Most importantly to the Yankees, though, is that they continue to see Voit develop at the plate. He’s expected to play regularly at the spot if and when the 2020 season starts — with lefty-swinging Mike Ford as a potential backup, and DJ LeMahieu and possibly Miguel Andujar also getting time there.
It was LeMahieu who took over at first base in the playoffs last season, with Gleyber Torres at second, Gio Urshela at third and Didi Gregorius at shortstop. With Gregorius now in Philadelphia and Torres slated for short, LeMahieu figures to be back at second regularly, leaving Voit at first.
This spring, Voit was encouraged by how he felt physically following the surgery, after dealing with an abdominal strain in London against the Red Sox then suffering a sports hernia later in the season.
The health woes robbed Voit of power and led to a reduced role. He was active in the ALDS against the Twins, but didn’t play and was then left off the roster in the ALCS against the Astros.
He didn’t think any of that would be a factor this season. Voit had two extra base hits (a homer and a double) in 30 at-bats this spring before the Grapefruit League season was scrapped.
“I have never felt any better in my life,’’ Voit said in February. “It’s everything. I feel faster, more agile and my strength is back.’’