New York Yankee’s fans have to understand that losing fan favorite DJ LeMahieu is possible. We have to believe the Yankees will do everything they can to keep DJ LeMahieu in pinstripes for the foreseeable future while recognizing the reality that that may not happen and look forward to life without the Yankee star.
The fact is that DJ LeMahieu has been the best Yankee player for the last two years. This past season, he has been the best batter in baseball, winning the batting title and becoming the only player in baseball history to win the title in both the American and National Leagues. His success comes with a double-edged sword. His value has increased so much in the past two years that he may become too expensive for the Yankees to hold on to him.
LeMahieu was signed from the Colorado Rockies before the beginning of the 2019 baseball season. DJ saw it as an opportunity to play for a team that could get him a World Series win, and in so doing so, he signed a two-year $24 million contract. At the end of the World Series, that contract came to an end, and DJ became a free-agent. The New York Yankees picked him over all the other Yankee free agents to offer a qualifying offer for one year at $18.9 million. DJ knowing he is worth much more than that and is sure to reject that offer by the deadline to accept or reject next Wednesday.
That will put LeMahieu into the free-agent market and will test his value to any team that is interested in him, which will be many, including the cross-town Mets who are flush with new money, with their new owner Steve Cohen whose deal to become the sole owner of the New York Mets yesterday afternoon. DJ LeMahieu will demand much more money than his last contract with the Yankees and for a longer term. Some are saying that it may approach $100 million over four years. If it is that high, Yankee fans should prepare for life after DJ LeMahieu. The Yankees will not pay that much to keep DJ in the Bronx.
There are several reasons for the Yankees’ reluctance to overspend on LeMahieu. They are coming off a season that saw them lose the most revenue due to the coronavirus season that saw no fans in the stands and those associated revenues. They also have two high paid players in Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton. They have a bevy of arbitration eligible players that will be seeing 2021 raises. Add to that, the Yankees recognize their biggest problem is their pitching rotation, and that is where the Yankees will direct their resources and, at the same time, try to stay below the baseball luxury tax threshold.
Assuming the Yankees and LeMahieu part ways, what steps can the New York Yankees take to replace him? There are many free-agent players out that will be far less expensive than what DJ will be demanding.
Tommy La Stella
The 31-year-old La Stella is a free agent from the Oakland Athletics. No mistake about it he is not a DJ LeMahieu in his defense abilities or his hitting capabilities. But he is a solid player that can play any infield position, although he is mostly a second baseman. La Stella is hard to whiff (27 walks, 12 strikeouts in 2020). The lefty has a .295 average and .837 OPS versus righties over the past four years and has gone .306/.880 the past two seasons.
A switch-hitting free agent who does better from the left side. On the short-list for the best defensive second baseman. He hit an AL-best 20 doubles, but his overall offense will come in just about league average. Like he was for the Indians in 2020, Hernandez now is in one-year stopgap mode for a team. Would the Yankees be interested in a short term deal for a lefty in the lineup?
Merrifield, like DJ is a hit machine. He is a second baseman that can play centerfield as well. One plus for the Yankees is that he would be the economic move as he is on a four year $16.25 million contract. He would be a free agent after the 2023 season. Would the Kansas City Royals be interested in Miguel Andujar in a deal to bring Merrifield to the Yankees?
The New York Yankees could want to keep it all in the family by attaching themselves to Gerrit Cole’s brother-in-law. Crawford is married to Cole’s sister. The San Francisco Giants might be interested in offloading the $15 million remaining on Crawford’s contact and take Adam Ottavino and a few mid-level prospects in return. Crawford is interesting because he is a good defending shortstop that would allow Gleyber Tores to move to second base. Crawford last season was .256 with 8 home runs, which is nothing to sneeze about. Another plus is that he is a lefty bat.
Ramirez is the closest thing out there to replace DJ LeMahieu. Ramirez is a switch-hitting power hitter. Ramirez is a third baseman by trade but can play second base. What will make Ramirez attractive to the Yankees is that his batting average of .292 is only overshadowed by his home run power. If this had been a regular 162 game season, Ramirez would have hit over 40 home runs. With a team that is centered on home runs, it could cause the Yankees to take a long hard look at Ramirez. Ramirez has finished in the top three of AL MVP voting in three of the past four years. He has $33 million left for three years with the Cleveland Indians. It will be interesting to see just how much payroll the Indians want to dump.
The bottom line
There are players out there that are free agents and others that can be traded for, but there is no other baseball player today that is better than DJ LeMahieu. The New York Yankees really need to assess their needs while making every effort to keep LeMahieu in pinstripes for years to come.