Stay or Go: Should Yankees re-sign Anthony Rizzo?

Anthony Rizzo treated art stay or go two panel October 2022
Anthony Rizzo treated art stay or go two panel October 2022

Coming off a strong season and an impressive October, Anthony Rizzo is expected to exercise the $16 million player option in his contract -- the second year of his two-year, $32 million deal -- and become a free agent.

He has some significant leverage, considering the Yankees’ need for lefthanded power, as well as the way he performed in the postseason, Rizzo likely will be looking for a three-year deal for something close to $20 million a year.

Should the Yankees re-sign him?

Aug 16, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) reacts after striking out during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.
Aug 16, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) reacts after striking out during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO LET RIZZO GO

At age 33, Rizzo’s back issues that forced him to the Injured List two different times last season could be worrisome. He missed 32 games mostly because of the back problems, which were significant enough for him to get an epidural shot during his second IL stint -- and that caused headaches, delaying his return.

How much money is too much to gamble that Rizzo won’t continue to be sidelined from time to time by the back injury, or eventually have his ability compromised as was the case rather famously with Don Mattingly in the 1990s? That could be a difficult question to answer.

The Yankees could also be looking for ways to save on payroll if they re-sign Aaron Judge to a mega-deal, and they do have a potential replacement at first base in DJ LeMahieu.

In that case they could play LeMahieu at first, keep Gleyber Torres at second and Josh Donaldson at third. Ideally they’d love to ditch Donaldson after his disappointing season but they owe him $21.75 million next season plus an $8 million buyout for 2024, so he’s almost certainly coming back.

Anthony Rizzo
Anthony Rizzo

WHY IT COULD MAKE SENSE TO KEEP RIZZO

He’s coming off a strong season that saw him hit 32 home runs, 21 doubles and post an OPS of .817. And while he hit only .224, his batting average figures to rise next year when the defensive shift will be banned in MLB, meaning there will be holes again in the right side of the infield and no second baseman playing in short right field.

Rizzo also provides much-needed lefthanded power in a lineup that otherwise has little of it to take full advantage of the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium. Indeed, judging by the numbers the ballpark in the Bronx is a very good fit for Rizzo, as he hit 19 of his 32 home runs at home.

And for a team that struggled badly to score runs in the postseason, Rizzo was one of the few Yankees to deliver when it counted most. He hit .276 in the nine games against the Cleveland Guardians and Houston Astros, with two home runs and a team-leading eight RBI. His ability to draw walks and get hit by pitches contributed as well, as he had an on-base percentage of .434.

Rizzo also had a superb season defensively and could win the fifth Gold Glove of his career, as he was recently named as one of three finalists at first base for the award. His defense stood out in the postseason as he saved Yankee infielders from numerous errors with his ability to pick the ball out of the dirt.

Finally, Rizzo apparently emerged as a leader during his 1 ½ seasons in the Bronx, as evidenced by the praise Judge offered for him at one point during the season.

“He’s one of the most welcoming leaders I’ve ever been around,” Judge told reporters. “He’s just so calm, cool, and collected; when you bring that in here, into a hostile environment in New York, it really helps. I honestly think it’s one of the biggest reasons we’ve had a lot of success in games where we’ve come back. He keeps everybody loose.”

Sep 24, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) gestures to the dugout after hitting a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Sep 24, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) gestures to the dugout after hitting a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.

THE VERDICT

In truth, it seems like a no-brainer to re-sign Rizzo, though the Yankees would prefer to keep it to a short-term deal, meaning one or two years. Whether he can push them into a three-year deal probably depends on what his market proves to be.

As one executive from an American League team told me, “Rizzo’s value is probably higher with the Yankees than any other team, because the ballpark is perfect for his swing and they need his lefthanded power. So I would expect them to get together on a deal, maybe two years and a mutual option.”

That seems to make a lot of sense. Too much for the Yankees not to do it.