Yankees will likely be without their third baseman on Opening Day

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Feb 20, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA;New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu (26) catches the ball at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Following the foul ball that struck infielder DJ LeMahieu on the foot, the Yankees had to answer a question about his readiness for Opening Day. Today, we finally got clarity on whether they’ll have their presumed leadoff hitter on Opening Day or not, and Aaron Boone delivered some subpar news. In his own words, it would be a ‘long shot’ for DJ LeMahieu to play the first game of the season in Houston, raising the question of what the Yankees will do at the position without their steady corner infielder.

The news that the Yankees will need to find a new Opening Day third baseman, creates an interesting dilemma for the front office as they have to decide quickly who will get the start, who will hit leadoff, and who they can acquire to improve the infield depth chart.

DJ LeMahieu Is a “Long Shot” to Play On Opening Day For the Yankees

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
Mar 11, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) singles during the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees were already thin at third base with the news that Oswald Peraza would miss a good chunk of time recovering from a shoulder injury. Now, they find out that DJ LeMahieu likely won’t be ready for Opening Day, although that doesn’t mean it’ll be an IL situation either. He has progressed well, doing some light jogging and even taking defensive reps at the hot corner, but the likelihood that he’ll be ramped up in time is low, and the Yankees don’t want to push a foot injury further.

We saw how foot issues and playing through injury have affected LeMahieu in the past, experiencing a dramatic slump in August and September back in 2022 before being shut down for the postseason. It took him the first half of last season to get his swing back into shape, and this should prevent the veteran infielder from developing bad habits to compensate for an injury. In the meantime, this presents two questions about what the Yankees will do to replace him as he’s both their third baseman and leadoff hitter.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Miami Marlins
Mar 4, 2024; Jupiter, Florida, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (25) throws to first base to retire Miami Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez (not pictured) during the third inning at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Fellow infielder Gleyber Torres could be the best leadoff option they have, as he’s one of the best all-around hitters in the game. The 27-year-old is coming off a great season last year, smacking 25 home runs with a 123 wRC+, and cutting his strikeout rate down to a measly 14.6%. The improved plate discipline and feel for contact make him arguably the best option for the role on the team, even when LeMahieu is healthy. His .273 average and 10% walk rate make him capable of both creating hits and being patient enough to work his walks.

The Yankees have also begun leading him off in LeMahieu’s absence, so it’ leads me to believe that Torres is their choice in the meantime. As for who plays third base, Oswaldo Cabrera and Jahmai Jones are the remaining options on the 40-man roster with MLB experience and an extensive track record at third base. Kevin Smith, who was a Non-Roster Invite, could also make the team but hasn’t necessarily had strong numbers in his showings. Perhaps the Yankees look to an external addition to try and supplement their bench in the meantime.

It’s unclear whether DJ LeMahieu will hit the IL or not, but for now, the Yankees will need a third baseman to play on Opening Day, and that answer is murky.

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