I was one of the many New York Yankees fans baffled as to why they let Didi Gregorius walk after the 2019 campaign ended. But, it seemed more than obvious that the Yankees front office was hell-bent on moving Gleyber Torres back to shortstop, allowing more regular playing opportunity for the biggest surprise in the 2018/2019 Yankees offseason, DJ LeMahieu. This is the final year of his $24 million contracts that he signed, and if we see him in action for the Bombers this season (if there is a season), I’m confident that it will be his final in pinstripes.
The Price for Second Basemen is Lower Than Shortstop
A top-flight second baseman will be a smaller price tag than a top-flight shortstop in both free agency and the trade market. DJ is going to be leading the 2021 free-agent class in 2021. Other names on that list include Jonathan Schoop and Villar, Freddy Galvis, Asdrubal Cabrerra, Kolten Wong, Jed Lowrie, and former Yankees Eduardo Nunez and Adeiny Hechavarria.
DJ is also going to be 32 years old when he hits free agency. With all the time off, DJ is going to be fresher for longer (as will the other Yankees) during this season. But the older he gets, the slower he’s going to become at the position that made him. Schoop, however, will be 29. The Yankees have seen plenty of what he can do with his time in Baltimore and those intense series against the Twins last season. Wong will be 30. While not that drastic of a difference in age from DJ, part of why the Yankees let the now 30-year-old Gregorius walk was his age, and how it will, undoubtedly, affect his ability to play short in the future. So, logically, the same rules will apply to DJ leMahieu.
Trading for a top-flight second baseman will also be cheaper than a top-flight shortstop. Trading for someone like Fransisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, Raul Mondesi, or Tim Anderson is going to result in a Yankee package that would have to include MINIMUM a Gleyber Torres, and Deivi Garcia package to start with. All of these shortstops I listed are under 30, nearing the prime of their careers, and are routinely included in the Top 20 best shortstops in baseball. Trading for someone comparable to LaMahieu both offensively, and defensively, will make it easier for the Yankees to absorb a loss of a Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, or a Tommy Kahnle type in the deal, without having to be expected to trade 3-4 of their best prospects for a top-flight shortstop.
Then There’s the Gleyber Factor
Players around all pro sports leagues are gaining more and more power with their front offices. Part of what made the Machado deal fall apart for the Yankees is Machado wanted to play shortstop. He didn’t want to play third base. Gleyber has his future ahead of him and has already shown what he’s capable of doing when he hits his prime as an offensive player. We’re talking potential Triple Crown contender with what he’s done these first 2 years.
What if Gleyber doesn’t want to move back to second base when DJ leaves? If you sign Gleyber to a long term deal (a foregone conclusion at this point when he’s out of arbitration eligibility), to then move him back to second, if he wants to play short, he’ll ask for a trade so he can play short. That would be too harsh of a blow.
As I stated, DJ is going to be 32 when he signs his next contract. Considering the numbers he put up last year in New York if that’s all teams will see of him when he goes to negotiate his next contract, why would he ask for anything else than a 7 year $150-250 million deal (that’s $21-36 million a year)? That’s the kind of salary people who put up 2019 DJ LaMahieu numbers offensively and defensively get. The Yankees have shown that they’re uneasy giving players north of 30 7 year deals, and they were hesitant about giving than 25-year-old Manny Machado a 10-year deal. If I’m DJ, I’m looking for one final long term deal, worth a bunch of money. And it’s just something that the Yankees are, more than likely, going to balk at considering the money owed both Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton.
I hope that a season happens, just so I can see DJ play as a Yankee again. It would be a shame to see him leave without seeing what he could do after that amazing first year. However, if there isn’t a season, I’ll be happy that it’ll mean no more JA Happ in pinstripes. I never understood why they signed him. And if he doesn’t reach the incentives in his contract for this year, then the third year can’t kick in.