5 potential suitors for DJ LeMahieu
As we advance through the postseason and fans around the league start to think about the offseason, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency.
Name: DJ LeMahieu
Team: New York Yankees
Age (as of Opening Day 2021): 32
2020 stats: 50 games, .364/.421/.590, 10 HR, 27 RBIs, 41 R, 177 OPS+
When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million contract in January 2019, the reaction was mixed. With Gleyber Torres at second base, Didi Gregorius coming back from elbow surgery to play shortstop and Miguel Andújar at third, what need did New York have for LeMahieu?
LeMahieu was coming off of an average season (.749 OPS) in Colorado, and while he had won the 2016 National League batting title with a .348 average, that number dropped to .310 and .276 over the next two seasons. He wasn’t exactly trending in the right direction.
As it turned out, general manager Brian Cashman knew what he was doing.
LeMahieu became the ultimate Swiss Army knife for manager Aaron Boone, who started him at first, second and third in 2019. He slashed .327/.375/.518 with 26 homers and 102 RBIs, finishing fourth in American League MVP Award voting. This season, LeMahieu appeared in 50 of the Yankees’ 60 games, leading the league with a .364 average, a .421 on-base percentage, a 1.011 OPS and a 177 OPS+, putting him in position for another Top 5 MVP finish.
The Yankees’ gamble paid off. Now 32, LeMahieu heads into free agency as one of the most intriguing players on the market.
1) Yankees: For a team with stars including Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole and Torres, it’s LeMahieu who has become the most popular player in the Bronx. His versatility and workmanlike approach to the game -- along with his knack for getting a hit every time the Yankees needed one -- made him a fan favorite. The Yankees will likely do what is necessary to bring him back and keep him in pinstripes.
2) Mets: What’s more fun than an old-fashioned bidding war between crosstown rivals? The perception is that once Steve Cohen is approved as the new owner, the Mets will jump into the free-agent frenzy with both feet. The fit isn’t clear for LeMahieu, but if the designated hitter returns to the National League next season, that could open second base for the Mets, who currently have Robinson Canó under contract for three more years.
3) Rockies: LeMahieu played seven seasons with the Rockies, so the comfort factor of moving back to Denver wouldn’t be an issue. Colorado made the playoffs in 2017 and '18, but the club has been under .500 in both seasons since LeMahieu departed. That’s not to say he would have pushed the club to the postseason, but the Rockies need to lengthen their lineup beyond Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. LeMahieu could slot in at first or second base with his former team.
4) Dodgers: Diving into the free-agent market isn’t standard operating procedure for the Dodgers, who prefer to fill the majority of their holes from within. But Justin Turner is a free agent as he approaches his 36th birthday, so if Los Angeles chooses to move on at third base, LeMahieu would be a perfect fit. Kiké Hernández is also a free agent, and while Gavin Lux should emerge as the starting second baseman, LeMahieu would provide insurance there as well.
5) Cardinals: Kolten Wong has a $12.5 million team option and Matt Carpenter has struggled for two straight seasons, leaving a couple of spots for LeMahieu to potentially fill in 2021 and beyond. St. Louis finished second to last in the NL in runs scored this season, so fixing the offense should be the club’s top priority this offseason.
“DJ LeMahieu is an elite hitter moving closer to the tail end of his prime. Just a pure hitter who uses the whole field with a simple, smooth swing; he gets on base and has enough thump to be an average power producer. LeMahieu is a big-body guy with soft hands who moves better than you think but is starting to experience diminished range at second base. The arm is a tick light and the reactions are a little slow at third base, so if he is forced to move off second base over the course of his next deal, first base is the most likely option. That puts more pressure on the bat and power production. DJ is a well-regarded professional who appears dedicated to his craft. The terms of his next contract will hinge on how the acquiring team views him defensively.”
LeMahieu’s skeptics two years ago wondered whether he would be able to continue hitting well away from Coors Field, where he's slashed .329/.386/.447 in 470 career games. Yankee Stadium -- another hitter’s haven -- proved to be just as fruitful for LeMahieu, who has slashed .359/.414/.628 in the Bronx. Potential suitors should no longer question LeMahieu’s ability to hit in any park -- Yellowstone included -- though his age (he turned 32 in July) could be a factor for teams considering lengthy offers.
FOR COMP'S SAKE
A year ago, Josh Donaldson rode a strong 2019 season into free agency, nabbing a four-year, $92 million deal that could be worth $100 million over five years if the Twins pick up his option for 2024. Donaldson, who was 34 when he signed the deal, had an AL MVP Award and three All-Star seasons on his résumé, though he had also missed more than two-thirds of the 2018 season with injuries. LeMahieu is two years younger and is coming off of two stellar seasons, so Donaldson’s contract is widely viewed as the floor for what LeMahieu will get this offseason.