Yankees add free agent DJ LeMahieu
NEW YORK -- As the offseason dawned, general manager Brian Cashman scanned the large board that faces his Yankee Stadium desk, shuffling magnets with players' names to prioritize the organization's areas of need. With each phone call and text message, he said, the goal would be to "collect as much talent as I possibly can in a very cost-effective manner."
While the Yankees entertained high-priced free agents like left-hander Patrick Corbin and infielder Manny Machado, hosting each for Bronx visits, the organization ultimately chose a different path. New York finalized a two-year, $24 million agreement with infielder DJ LeMahieu on Monday, a pact that casts significant doubt upon the likelihood of Machado landing in pinstripes.
A two-time National League All-Star and a three-time Gold Glove Award winner over seven seasons with the Rockies, LeMahieu was one of the top second basemen available on a free-agent market that was crowded at that position. In a corresponding roster move, the Yankees designated outfielder Tim Locastro for assignment.
Due to an already busy infield mix -- and the expectation that shortstop Didi Gregorius will rejoin the active roster this summer, as early as June -- the Yankees envision utilizing the 30-year-old LeMahieu in a super-utility role, seeing time at second base, third base and shortstop.
LeMahieu's presence provides insurance behind shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who signed a league-minimum contract this month and has missed the last 1 1/2 seasons due to injuries. Should Tulowitzki be unavailable on Opening Day, the Yankees could shift Gleyber Torres to shortstop and have LeMahieu handle second base, with Miguel Andujar and Luke Voit envisioned to handle the infield corners.
Though Machado remains a free agent, the Phillies and White Sox now stand as the 26-year-old star's likely landing spots, with the Yankees reluctant to approach Machado's reported asking prices of 10 years and $300 million.
LeMahieu won the National League batting title with a .348 average in 2016 and is a career .298/.350/.406 hitter, but his batting average and on-base percentage have dropped each of the past two seasons. LeMahieu batted .276/.321/.428 in '18 with a career-high 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 128 games.
He has been a much more productive hitter within the spacious confines of Colorado's Coors Field, with an .834 career OPS at home, compared to a .673 mark on the road. Last season, LeMahieu had a .793 OPS in Denver and a .698 OPS everywhere else.
However, the Yankees are encouraged by the right-handed LeMahieu's propensity to make hard contact and drive the ball up the middle or to the right-center-field gap, which could help his production at Yankee Stadium.
According to Statcast™, LeMahieu has put 645 balls in play with exit velocities of 95 mph or greater over the past three seasons, ranking fourth in the Majors behind Machado, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich.
In addition, among 104 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances over the last four seasons (2015-18), the Visalia, Calif., native has the fifth-lowest swing-and-miss rate (5 percent), the sixth-highest contact rate (88.2 percent) and the eighth-highest line-drive rate (24.6 percent).