Anthony Rizzo happy to be back with Yankees, and Aaron Boone is happy to have him
TAMPA, Fla. — In the end, Anthony Rizzo said, "This is where I wanted to be."
Meaning, back with the Yankees.
The first baseman, acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline last July, re-signed with the team Tuesday night. The deal became official Thursday morning, which allowed Rizzo to take the field in uniform with some familiar teammates.
"It's just a great fit for trying to win a World Series, and that's what it's all about here," said Rizzo, 32, who signed a two-year contract for $32 million with an opt-out after the first year. "And that's the best thing you could ask for as a player is to be on a team that's competing to win the last game of the postseason."
The lefthanded-hitting Rizzo was an instant hit with the Yankees last season, providing an upgrade in the field and adding balance to a righty-dominant lineup. He hit .249 with eight homers and a .768 OPS in 49 games.
After a blistering first six games in which he hit .400 with three homers, six RBIs and a 1.369 OPS, he batted .229 with five homers, 15 RBIs and a .685 OPS in his last 43 games. He missed 10 games in August a battle with COVID-19, which coincided with his statistical downturn.
"There’s no excuses," he said.
The infield Rizzo is rejoining will look different from the one he was a part of last season, especially on the left side, where Josh Donaldson will be at third base and Isiah Kiner-Falefa will be at shortstop. Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa, along with backup catcher Ben Rortvedt, arrived Sunday night after being acquired from the Twins for third baseman Gio Urshela and catcher Gary Sanchez.
"JD, obviously, his track record speaks for itself with how he plays, the edge he brings in his at-bats," Rizzo said of the 36-year-old Donaldson (he was not as familiar with Kiner-Falefa, 26, though he was complimentary in a general way). "It’s a premium at-bat every single time, and that’s important."
Rizzo, who won a World Series title with the 2016 Cubs, is known to bring an edge as well. Not only was he a good fit in the Yankees’ lineup last season, but the four-time Gold Glover with the Cubs was a good fit in the clubhouse.
That was among the reasons — certainly not the only one — Rizzo essentially was choice No. 2 for the Yankees when it came to filling their needs at first base. The club’s top choice was Matt Olson, but the Yankees did not want to part with the number of quality prospects the A’s were looking for, including top position prospect Anthony Volpe. Olson ended up being traded to Atlanta.
And though many fans salivated over the possibility of signing free agent first baseman Freddie Freeman the Yankees’ level of involvement with him was greatly overplayed. The former National League MVP wound up signing with the Dodgers.
"The biggest thing, we get a really good at-bat, and a really good hitter to add some length to our lineup," Aaron Boone said of Rizzo.
And on defense?
"He plays the position with ease," Boone said. "Obviously, he’s a former Gold Glover. Just really good footwork and feel around the bag. Plays the position very aggressively, able to athletically move on the run, make throws and things like that . . . He's fearless out there, and a lot of times when you’re able to play that way, it’s because you’re good and talented at the position. In a perfect world, you have all your guys out there playing with that confidence and with a fearless nature, and he does that."