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TAMPA — The Yankees brought back Anthony Rizzo for a variety of reasons: his lefty power bat, his solid defense at first base — and his championship pedigree, having been a key piece to the Cubs title-winning team in 2016.
Rizzo made his first appearance on the field at Yankees camp Thursday, after agreeing to a two-year, $32 million deal with an opt-out after this season.
“This is where I wanted to be,’’ said Rizzo, part of a class of first basemen that included free agents Freddie Freeman and Kyle Schwarber, as well as Matt Olson, who was traded from Oakland to Atlanta.
“Experience is definitely crucial, and there’s experience in that locker room,’’ Rizzo said. “The Yankees have not won in a few years, but they’ve had postseason runs. … This game is hard. Everyone wants to put the next dynasty out there, but this game is so competitive now.”
Rizzo pointed to two of the last World Series champions as examples, with the Braves surprising last year and the Nationals turning their season around to win it all in 2019.
“It really puts that in perspective,’’ Rizzo said. “Were the Braves the most talented team last year? Absolutely not. But they came together at the end and were the best team. Player-wise, they had the right formula. And you need a couple bounces and the experience of getting punched and not losing focus.”
With three weeks remaining until Opening Day, the Yankees likely aren’t done maneuvering and figure to move Luke Voit, who doesn’t have a place to play regularly.
Asked if he thought the front office was finished making moves on the roster, Aaron Boone responded, “What I would say to that is I haven’t seen much of [GM Brian Cashman] in the last couple days because he has been busy. … Guys are working overtime right now, especially on top of trying to round out our club and explore different options, things like arbitration numbers. So there’s a lot going on in this condensed version with no three months of the offseason.”
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has already said the Yankees have a “championship-caliber” team.
If he’s to be proven right, Rizzo will have to play a major role.
He provides a left-handed bat, which is among the reasons the Yankees prefer Rizzo over Voit.
And they have to hope he returns to the form he showed when he first arrived in the trade from the Cubs last July, when Rizzo went 9-for-32 with three homers in his first nine games as a Yankee.
He was then sidelined by COVID and was not as productive down the stretch.
After saying last year that he was not vaccinated, Rizzo on Thursday declined to divulge his status, as the Yankees deal with City Hall regarding the private-sector workplace mandate that would prevent unvaccinated players from playing in The Bronx.
“I don’t think we’ll really have to worry about any of that,’’ Rizzo said. “We’ll see what the mandates are. I’m not too concerned.”
When pressed on the issue, Rizzo said he preferred to keep his vaccination information private, citing the “backlash” he received online last year when he said he was not vaccinated.
As for how Rizzo will impact the Yankees, Boone praised his offense, defense and leadership.
“Obviously, he caught fire as soon as he came to us and I think in a lot of ways COVID kind of … cut into the ascent he was on,’’ Boone said. “I think it took him a while to get back going physically because it did knock him out for a couple weeks physically. It kind of killed some of the momentum he was building. I fully expect Anthony [to have] a really good shot at having a year that’s been in line with what he’s done in his career, which is a lot of production.”
He’s been less productive in each of the past two seasons, but the 32-year-old said he’d made some adjustments to his swing.
“Hopefully it pays off,’’ Rizzo said.