Could the Yankees bench $15 million utility man?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York Yankees, dj lemahieu
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees might soon face some tough choices if their high-cost veterans continue to underperform. While slugger Giancarlo Stanton has started to turn his season around, the team is still waiting for consistent contributions from Josh Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu.

Donaldson might be hitting home runs at an incredible rate, but with just 15 hits this season and an alarming lack of base hits, his performance is underwhelming. It might be time to reconsider his role as the third baseman, potentially reducing him to a rotational player.

Potential Replacements: The Search for a Stable Third Base

In Donaldson’s place, the Yankees might turn to DJ LeMahieu or Isiah Kiner-Falefa (IKF), with the latter seemingly performing better. LeMahieu’s performance this year has been disappointingly below par, which is unusual considering his past averages. Despite a poor September due to a toe injury that cut his previous season short, LeMahieu managed a .261 average with a .357 OBP and 116 wRC+.

Fast forward to the current year, LeMahieu’s performance in 75 games has been less than stellar, hitting a low .220 with a .286 OBP, seven homers, and 27 RBIs. His strikeout rate of 23.6% is nearly double that of 2022, and his wRC+ has fallen to 78, indicating a performance 22% below the MLB average.

A Struggling Infielder: LeMahieu’s Impact on the Yankees

In other words, LeMahieu has been largely ineffective, hitting .154 with a .258 OBP in July over 26 at-bats. Whether his struggles stem from a lingering toe injury or a mental slump, the Yankees need their $15 million infielder to start pulling his weight.

The team greatly missed LeMahieu’s contact hitting in last year’s postseason. If he can’t return to form, the Yankees stand little chance in the more competitive playoff environment where pitching is at its peak.

A Possible Solution: The Rising Potential of IKF

If the underperformance of Donaldson and LeMahieu continues, IKF might find himself at third base if the team brings in another outfielder. The 28-year-old utility player has been delivering a .255 average with a .303 OBP, along with five homers, 23 RBIs, and nine stolen bases this year. His wRC+ of 90 shows steady improvement over his past two seasons.

While IKF may not be a natural left fielder, he excels at third base. If the Yankees can justify moving him back and minimizing their vulnerabilities, the team could potentially see better outcomes.

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