If there’s life on Mars, they know on Mars that the two most prominent free agents of the past offseason in baseball were Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both of whom hit the market at the age of 26. Machado signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300 million
If there’s life on Mars, they know on Mars that the two most prominent free agents of the past offseason in baseball were Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both of whom hit the market at the age of 26. Machado signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300 million and Harper signed with the Phillies for 13 years and $330 million. If you’re keeping score at home, that is a total of 23 years and $630 million.
The Yankees signed a former Rockies batting champion named DJ LeMahieu for two years and $24 million. As we approach the All-Star Game -- one in which LeMahieu will participate and Machado and Harper will not -- it is LeMahieu who has become the better free agent buy, for a much better baseball team.
I asked Yankees general manager Brian Cashman before the Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets on Tuesday night what his expectations were for LeMahieu when he signed him, even before everybody except manager Aaron Boone ended up on the injured list.
“We told him he was going to get everyday at-bats,” Cashman said. “We just couldn’t tell him where in the infield he was going to be playing to get them.”
This was before Miguel Andujar, who played third base last season and whom Cashman called one of his “booster rockets,” was lost for the season because of labrum surgery. This was before Troy Tulowitzki, another former Rockie whom Cashman hoped could play short until Didi Gregorius returned, got hurt. And Greg Bird, one of the Yankees’ first baseman at the start of the year, suffered a plantar fascia injury in April. Luke Voit, who grabbed the first base job for himself, had 17 homers and 50 RBIs before an abdominal injury suffered in London put him on the IL.
So LeMahieu, who will start at second for the American League All-Star team, has played first and second and third, which is where he was for the Mets game on Tuesday night. There is no Yankee who has been more valuable than LeMahieu has, on a team that has the best record in the American League despite 22 players on the IL this season and has the same number of losses as the Dodgers, who have the best record in the National League.
• LeMahieu named AL Player of the Month for June
LeMahieu, a free agent after last season, has a .341 batting average, 12 homers, 61 RBIs, 108 hits, a .527 slugging percentage and a .914 OPS.
Machado has a .276 average, 20 homers, 57 RBIs, 86 hits, a slugging percentage of .513 and an OPS of .862.
Harper? He has a batting average nearly 100 points lower than LeMahieu’s at .247, has 15 homers, 59 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .565 and an OPS of .829. His team came into Wednesday five games over .500. The Yankees came into Wednesday 25 games over .500, despite a Biblical number of injuries.
“He’s our stealth assassin,” Cashman said. “You know what his real position is? Baseball player.”
Cashman added this: “Everybody’s who’s ever come into contact with him, from college on, says the same thing about him: He’s a ballplayer. We knew there’d been a drop-off in batting average last season (.276 in 2018, after winning the batting title in 2016 with .348), but we didn’t see that as anything more than an aberration.”
Cashman said that he knew there were two teams in the American League with serious interest in LeMahieu. When the Yankees signed him, he said a general manager from one of those teams reached out to him and said, “Damn.” That signing did not make headlines the way Machado and Harper did with the money and years they got. But it’s LeMahieu who has played like a headliner in New York. And now he has the chance to become the first player to ever win batting championships in both leagues.
Cashman joked on Tuesday night that he told LeMahieu that he was going to play every day, just not on Opening Day. Andujar wasn’t hurt yet. Gleyber Torres, another of the Yankees’ young stars, was at second, and wouldn’t move over to short until Tulowitzki got hurt. And the Yankees wanted to see what they had in Tulo. So LeMahieu sat against the Orioles. But he played the next day and has played like an All-Star ever since.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have combined for seven home runs so far because of their injuries. LeMahieu has been indispensable no matter what position he’s played, reminding people why, as he moves up on his 31st birthday next week, he is a lifetime .300 hitter. Last weekend in London against the Red Sox, he got three hits in one game, four in another, scored four runs and knocked in seven. Greatest player in the history of the United Kingdom.
“I just keep finding different ways to say it,” Cashman said. “He’s just a baseball player. And we’re glad he’s playing for us.”
Before Machado signed with the Padres, before Harper signed with the Phillies, LeMahieu signed in the middle of January with the Yankees. Again: two years, $24 million in the winter of those $300 million contracts. Machado and Harper were the biggest stars of the offseason, without question. LeMahieu is the All-Star. Having a better season than those two guys. On a much better team.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.