BOSTON – The hours before Luke Voit's life changed for the better were spent wandering through casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, blowing off steam with teammates after his Memphis Redbirds posted a win over the Mets' top farm club. He returned to his hotel room with a lighter wallet, but one year ago Sunday, the Yankees definitely hit the jackpot.
Voit reported to Cashman Field that afternoon, entering the visiting clubhouse of the Las Vegas 51s' facility with no knowledge that a different Cashman was hot on his trail. Some 2,500 miles away, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was finalizing a deal with the Cardinals that would ship Voit to New York, consummating the transaction on July 28, 2018.
"We had been on Luke Voit the last two years," Cashman recalls. "We noticed he was someone that was putting up really strong offensive numbers in the Minor Leagues. Some of them we may think are real, some we don't. We thought there was some realness to his stuff."
Voit was in the midst of what he called his most frustrating pro season, as he was blocked by Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez in St. Louis, despite a strong .891 OPS in 67 games at Triple-A. Playing for the Cardinals had been a boyhood dream for the Missouri native, but he was now hoping to be noticed by one of the other 29 teams.
That afternoon, Voit spotted his name in the No. 3 spot in the Redbirds' lineup, then ducked into the batting cages to hit alongside fellow prospect Tyler O'Neill. As Voit was wrapping his wrists with tape about an hour before first pitch, manager Stubby Clapp shredded the lineup card and posted a new one without Voit's name.
"I thought, 'Man, I wonder if I'm being traded?'" Voit said. "I'd been to the big leagues before, so it's not like it's a surprise. [Clapp] just told me to chill out. We get to the third inning and I'm coaching first base. [Pete] Alonso is at first, and he's like, 'Dude, what's going on with you, bro? Why aren't you playing?' I'm like, 'I have no idea.'"
Voit returned to the dugout at the end of the half-inning and received an urgent message: He had been traded to the Yankees.
The deal moved left-hander Chasen Shreve and right-hander Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis in exchange for Voit and international bonus pool money (which the Yanks would use on Cuban right-hander Osiel Rodriguez, now their No. 29 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline).
Cashman said that the Cardinals had frequently expressed interest in Shreve, and the Yankees were seeking a right-handed-hitting first baseman since Tyler Austin would soon be out of Minor League options. Cashman moved Austin to the Twins a few days later in a swap for right-hander Lance Lynn.
"We felt like we needed that right-handed option to be there, waiting in the wings with all of his options left," Cashman said. "We said we'd do Shreve if we could get the international slot money, so we made that offer. They said they needed more and they gave us a list of names, so we eventually agreed to provide Gallegos. It's kind of worked out for both clubs."
That deal seemed more lopsided before Gallegos emerged as a reliable reliever this year, but the Yankees are still thrilled with the return. Cashman identified senior director of player development Kevin Reese (then the team's scouting director), assistant general manager Michael Fishman, director of quantitative analysis David Grabiner and director of baseball operations Matt Ferry among those who lobbied for Voit's acquisition.
"It was more numbers than scouting," Cashman said. "I can't give away the secret sauce. They had been pounding the table that, 'Hey, this is a dude,' as Aaron Boone would say. And they were right."
Voit said that he was welcomed to the organization by Cashman, and within the hour, he was on a red-eye flight to meet the Yankees in Boston. Voit said he felt overwhelmed at first, scanning the bold-faced names affixed to the lockers around his, but Boone saw nothing but confidence.
"I can see him walking into the clubhouse, his shirt buttons down and his bats, like, 'Here I am, boys,'" Boone said. "I remember it well."
Voit went 3-for-16 (.188) in his first five games as a Yankee, prompting the club to option him to Triple-A in mid-August. Voit returned for good nine days later, having vowed to be done riding the International League's buses.
"I was trying to be a different guy than who I was," Voit said. "I created a bad swing, a bad approach, just trying to prove that I could hit 50 home runs and have 150 RBIs. I think I went down and got my mind right, back to what got me to the big leagues and a professional hitter. Like Boonie always says, whenever I'm controlling the zone, that's when I'm at my best."
A key cog in the lineup for the playoff push, Voit hit .353/.427/.759 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs in 34 games after Aug. 21. As the team celebrated clinching a postseason berth in September, Aaron Judge wrapped an arm around Voit and said: "We wouldn't be in this position right now if it wasn't for you."
"Right when he came over here, he pumped us up," Judge said. "That's just the passion that he has for the game and we all feed off of that. Even when we're down, he's a guy that is being vocal and talking to us, saying, 'Let's go, guys.' You feed off of that. You love having a teammate like that."
Though Voit battled with Greg Bird this spring to serve as the Opening Day first baseman, there is little question about that now, with Voit seemingly entrenched for the foreseeable future.
"He’s been a really, really good player for us," Boone said. "He personifies what I think of our guys. He makes it very difficult on pitchers, and obviously has the ability to hit with power on top of that. He's loved in that room and he loves being a New York Yankee. All that adds to his appeal."
Already having reached career highs with 19 homers and 54 RBIs entering play on Sunday, Voit has his sights set upon achieving much more in his second calendar year wearing the pinstripes.
"I look at guys like Jason Giambi, Tino Martinez and Mark Teixeira, guys I grew up watching that played for the Yankees," Voit said. "That's who I want to be. I'm not there yet, but I feel like those are good comps for me -- steady first basemen that played in the big leagues for a long time. That's my goal, and to win a World Series."