DJ LeMahieu made it clear that he wanted to stay in New York. The Yankees identified him as their top priority entering the offseason. The reigning American League batting champion believed it was a lock, hoping that a deal would be reached about two weeks after the playoffs.
Those two weeks became four, then eight and then 10. LeMahieu experienced moments of doubt, as did his teammates, who frequently pinged with text messages seeking updates. Ultimately, LeMahieu was relieved by the end of that stalemate, agreeing on Jan. 15 to a six-year, $90 million contract that the club announced this week.
"It's no secret that I wanted to be back with the Yankees," LeMahieu said on Thursday. "I wanted to be back in New York. It was frustrating at times, because it took so long, but I'm just so excited to be back. That's what I wanted from the beginning; this is what I wanted all along. I couldn't be more excited and I'm just happy it all worked out."
Under the agreement, LeMahieu will earn $15 million annually through 2026, coming off a season in which the 32-year-old led the Majors with a .364 batting average -- the second time in his career that he has paced his league in hitting, having batted .348 for the Rockies in '16.
The AL's 2020 Silver Slugger at second base after hitting .364/.421/.590 (71-for-195) with 10 homers and 27 RBIs in 50 games, LeMahieu explored other free-agency options -- the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Mets were among his most interested suitors -- but LeMahieu said that he believed there was "unfinished business" in The Bronx.
"This is just a group I want to be a part of," LeMahieu said. "This is an exciting group. There's one goal with the Yankees, and that's to win the World Series. In my years, we haven't been able to do it. I want to be a Yankee, but I wanted to be a part of this group even more."
To that note, LeMahieu opened his Zoom call with reporters not by acknowledging his contract, but by noting Masahiro Tanaka's departure. The right-hander is returning to the Rakuten Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball after seven strong seasons in pinstripes. LeMahieu added that he would miss playing with right-hander Adam Ottavino, who was traded to the Red Sox earlier this week.
"Seeing these guys go, personally, it's tough," LeMahieu said. "I think the Yankees have a plan in mind. Even though a couple of these moves personally hurt, I think they're probably trying to do what's best to bring a World Series to New York."
LeMahieu said that he believes this roster is ready to accomplish that goal, coming off seasons in which they fell to the Astros (2019 AL Championship Series) and Rays ('20 AL Division Series).
"I think we ran into a really hot Tampa team [last year]," LeMahieu said. "I thought we were better than they were. I think they just made a couple of plays that we didn't, and that was the bottom line. Moving forward, we've got to make those plays. Last year, they just had our number, and it was disappointing. I really think we're going to get over the hump here."
Over his two seasons with the Yankees (2019-20), LeMahieu has earned voluminous praise for his contact approach, littering the Yankee Stadium outfield with line drives, while performing with aplomb as the club's leadoff hitter. He finished third in the AL MVP Award voting in 2020.
According to FanGraphs, among the 105 hitters with at least 2,500 plate appearances over the past six seasons (2015-20), LeMahieu has the fifth-lowest swing-and-miss rate (5.2 percent), the sixth-highest contact rate (87.7 percent) and the 11th-highest line-drive rate (24.3 percent).
"My strength is putting the ball in play," LeMahieu said. "For some guys, it's to hit the ball out of the yard. When guys try to be someone they're not, they go backwards. For me, it's just putting the ball in play, hopefully not striking out and hitting the ball hard. That's always been my game. I've just gotten better at it as my career's gone on."