In a relatively small move with much larger implications, the Yankees signed infielder DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million contract on Friday. LeMahieu is a two-time All-Star, having spent the last seven years with the Colorado Rockies before entering free agency this offseason. The news was first reported Friday morning, by Jack Curry of the YES Network:
LeMahieu, 30, is known for his defensive prowess and contact skills at the plate. A three-time Gold Glover at second base (the reigning NL winner), DJ was the best defensive second baseman in baseball last season by Fangraphs’ defensive metric UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating). From 2015-2018 with Colorado, LeMahieu batted .309/.369/.429, averaging 10 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and 2.6 fWAR per season. His best year came in 2016 when he won the NL batting title, slashing an impressive .348/.416/.495 with 11 homers, 66 RBI, 11 SB, and 104 runs scored.
The only question mark comes with LeMahieu’s home/road splits – for him, the Coors Field effect is pretty alarming. In 2018, he was two completely different players:
While Yankee fans can probably expect LeMahieu to be significantly better than how he performed on the road last year, it’s very difficult to project the adjustment that comes once he leaves Colorado.
Besides what LeMahieu himself brings to the Yankees, there’s a lot to unpack with this move. The biggest, most obvious takeaway is that the Yankees are essentially out on Manny Machado. With the superstar reportedly seeking a contract north of $300 million, it appears that GM Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner aren’t willing to break out the checkbook.
Also, there’s the question of where in the infield LeMahieu will play – after all, Gleyber Torres was the team’s starting second baseman for much of 2018. At other positions, the infield is just as crowded; Luke Voit and Greg Bird look to platoon at first base, recently signed veteran Troy Tulowitzki will play shortstop, and Miguel Andujar will start his sophomore season at third. However, the Yankees have indicated they will use DJ at all three positions in 2019:
LeMahieu does have a history at all three positions; as a younger player he played everywhere in the infield, including at shortstop, before settling in at second base.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius will still be out until mid-to-late 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, but this offseason the Yankees have fashioned a dynamic infield in his absence. Tulowitzki’s age and injury history presents a very real risk, but if a replacement is necessary, LeMahieu can take over second base, allowing Torres to slide over to shortstop. Additionally, both DJ and Gleyber could provide better defensive options at third base than Andujar, who struggled defensively in 2018.
At the end of the day, while it’s ambitious to expect big offensive numbers from LeMahieu in 2019, he provides a contact bat that the Yankees sorely need. As a plus defender, he’ll act as a great depth piece, filling any holes in the Yankee infield. It might not be the move Yankee fans were hoping for, but it brings the Yankees one step closer to a successful offseason and a complete team heading into Spring Training.
Featured Photo: Jennifer Linnea Photography