The Yankees are about to make a big mistake at third base

yankees, dj lemahieu
Jul 30, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) hits an RBI single against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are working through an infield log jam they could eventually be cleared up via trade. The Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers could be in the market for starting-level infielders, meaning the Yankees could end up moving a player like Isiah Kiner-Falefa. I wouldn’t rule out Gleyber Torres, either, given he’s coming off a bounce-back season and still has one year left of control after the 2023 campaign.

In the meantime, they’ve been working out Oswaldo Cabrera at several infield spots, including the hot corner. It seems as if he may fall into a super-utility role, leaving the left-field position battle to Aaron Hicks, Rafael Ortega, Willie Calhoun, and Estevan Florial.

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The Yankees need to think clearly about where DJ LeMahieu should feature in 2023:

The starting alignment projects to have Josh Donaldson at third base, coming off of a disappointing 2022 season where he saw career worsts in several categories. The 37-year-old had a tremendous defensive season, though, but his offensive metrics fell off a cliff. Over 132 games and 546 plate appearances, Donaldson hit .222 with a .308 OBP, 15 homers, 62 RBIs, and posted a 27.1% strikeout rate and 9.9% walk rate. His Steamer projections have him hitting .226 with a .318 OBP across 99 games, still well below his career averages.

The question is, if the Yankees have Oswald Peraza at shortstop, Torres at second base, and Anthony Rizzo at first base, where does DJ LeMahieu get his at-bats? One way or another, DJ is a necessity in the team’s starting lineup, serving as the lead-off hitter. Manager Aaron Boone simply can’t justify leaving him out of the equation, so the veteran infielder needs to feature somewhere, and the DH spot is locked up.

If the Yankees end up starting Donaldson at third base over LeMahieu, that would be a serious mistake. LeMahieu is more than capable of featuring on the hot corner, enjoying 385.2 innings there in 2022, hosting a .992 fielding percentage with 7 defensive runs saved and 4 outs above average. His ability to play multiple defensive spots at an above-average level is what makes him so valuable and why the Yankees signed him to a six-year, $90M deal.

Despite DJ’s obvious ability to play multiple defensive positions, the Yankees have to get his bat in the lineup. He’s coming off a relatively down season, hitting .261 with a .357 OBP, 12 homers, and 46 RBIs. That is considered below standard for LeMahieu, whose numbers were dragged down in the month of September after sustaining a toe injury that ended up forcing him to miss the postseason entirely. He still managed to play in 125 games, but given the fact that his toe seems to be fully healed and he’s ready to contribute at 100%, the Yankees need him to be an everyday player. Of course, manager Aaron Boone loves to change up the starting lineup on a daily basis, but there’s no excuse for Donaldson to be getting even 50% of the reps at third base if DJ is fully healthy.

Many present the argument that the Yankees simply can’t justify benching Donaldson, considering he’s set to earn $25 million for the 2023 season. However, if Donaldson is starting, DJ or Gleyber Torres is likely on the bench, and that is $15 or $10 million not on the baseball diamond.

At the end of the day, it’s about winning games and reaching the World Series, and not even Hal Steinbrenner would be worried if Donaldson was riding the pine while the Yankees put their best players on the field to compete on a daily basis.