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Experts debate where DJ will likely end up

@alysonfooter and @KeeganMatheson and @mike_petriello and @feinsand
January 11, 2021

Earlier this offseason, most industry insiders assumed DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees would remain together, even as LeMahieu tested the free-agent waters. A recent report suggested the veteran infielder may be ready to look elsewhere. A panel of MLB.com reporters gathered to discuss. Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter, moderator): A recent Yahoo

Earlier this offseason, most industry insiders assumed DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees would remain together, even as LeMahieu tested the free-agent waters. A recent report suggested the veteran infielder may be ready to look elsewhere. A panel of MLB.com reporters gathered to discuss.

Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter, moderator): A recent Yahoo report suggested that DJ LeMahieu is unhappy that the Yankees aren’t being more aggressive with contract negotiations and he has instructed his representation to open the floor to other suitors. What do we make of this? I feel like in normal times, this would be a bigger deal than it is now. This has been such a slow winter.

Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand, executive reporter): Honestly, I’m not sure how much other teams read into anything they see in media reports. It’s tough to know where the information is coming from.

Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello, analyst): To be honest, I was shocked at the thought that they'd made it to January without strongly engaging other teams already. Can that possibly be true?

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Feinsand: The Yankees have made it clear that they want LeMahieu back, and LeMahieu has stated his desire to return to New York. As Gordon Gecko once famously said, the rest is conversation.

Petriello: Much as I hate to say this, I think Mark's right. It's not like other teams are all, well, OK, now we can think about LeMahieu. It doesn't work that way.

Feinsand: I keep going back to one thing: When is the last time the Yankees wanted to retain a player and that player left? Andy Pettitte in 2003, I suppose, but there were other circumstances that drew him to Houston. Robinson Canó wasn’t a player the Yankees wanted back badly enough for the price he was asking, so they made him a seven-year, $175 million offer they knew he would reject.

When the Yankees want to bring back a player, they do. When all is said and done, I fully expect LeMahieu to stay with the Yankees. If anything, these reports might give the teams that were already interested in LeMahieu a glimmer of hope. Could they now increase their offer and try to get a deal done? Sure. But I find it hard to believe the Yankees won’t have a chance to match that offer before LeMahieu signs elsewhere.

Petriello: This also seems like How To Be An Agent 101 if you're trying to send a signal to the Yankees, really.

Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson, Blue Jays beat reporter): The Blue Jays have liked LeMahieu throughout, but they also see what the rest of us see: the likely return of LeMahieu to the Yankees. The Blue Jays have been one of the "also interested" teams with multiple players this offseason and that will continue, as the league knows well how much financial flexibility they have, but finishing second or third in the pursuit of a major free agent won't get them anywhere. It's encouraging to hear that LeMahieu is more open to speaking with other teams, but are those other teams legitimate options or simply tools being used in his negotiations with New York?

Footer: Keegan's point is a good one. Teams like the Blue Jays surely don’t want to be "played" as a pawn to drive the price up. The Yankees may be assuming they are going to offer LeMahieu the most anyway. But you can't drive up the bidding without two teams. So some gamesmanship may be in play here, too?

Feinsand: And Joel Wolfe doesn’t need a beginner class on how to be an agent.

Hey, if the Blue Jays can push the price up, they may force the Yankees to either A) overpay to bring him back, or B) decide the price tag is too high. If it’s the former, they’ve forced a division rival to spend more money than they wanted to. If it’s the latter, perhaps LeMahieu winds up in a Toronto uniform. Win-win.

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Petriello: I also think maybe LeMahieu needs the Yankees more than he might want to let on. It's objectively hilarious to me that after years of him playing in Coors, and all the associated connotations that come with it, that he goes to the Bronx and, in two years as a Yankee, does this:

Home OPS: 1.063
Road OPS: .793

That's a 270-point difference, without the "my home park hurts me on the road" narrative you can tell if you're a Rockie.

As Mark said, this does seem to be the perfect fit of player and team. (Aside from the fact it would force them to keep Gleyber Torres at shortstop, which seems, uh, bad.)

Feinsand: The entire market is slow. That LeMahieu’s market is also crawling along shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

Matheson: Blue Jays vs. New York is a bit of a theme this offseason. They're in on George Springer, of course, as their top target, but could be facing the Mets as their biggest challenger there. That pursuit sounds more realistic than LeMahieu given his desired terms.

The Yankees being outbid by the Blue Jays for their own star would be a strange new world.

Petriello: You figure the Yankees are already watching what the Mets are up to, and losing DJ to a division rival wouldn't make this a much more fun offseason for the Steinbrenners. A little feet to the fire never hurts.

Feinsand: That’s exactly why reports like this tend to draw different responses. I’m not denying the validity of the report at all, but I’m not sure how much it will influence teams’ approach to negotiations.

Petriello: (It won't.)

Matheson: The Blue Jays don't tend to make emotional decisions with their money, either. I wish I could say the same for myself, but they'll stick to their valuation.

Footer: Let's examine this part of the Yahoo report: “Teams that have engaged with the LeMahieu camp say LeMahieu expects more than Josh Donaldson’s four-year, $92 million deal with the Minnesota Twins and at least on par with J.D. Martinez’s five years and $110 million with the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees, LeMahieu’s preferred club after two successful seasons in the Bronx, have not met those terms.”

Petriello: That's better than the previous report that said he was looking for five years and $125 million, which was never realistic.

Feinsand: The Donaldson contract was always around where I figured LeMahieu’s contract would come in. I still think it’s about right.

The biggest question on LeMahieu’s contract is whether any team goes to a fifth year. If they do, there’s a good chance they’ll get him. I think the Yankees will stick to four years, though that’s my personal opinion, not from anyone at the team.

Petriello: I think his issue here is that he does not have anywhere near the track record of those two players, though he's obviously much more valuable as a defender than Martinez was. But he's older than people think -- 33 in July -- and some of the underlying Statcast metrics weren't great this year (declines in defense, ninth percentile in barrel rate, for whatever you want to put into a shortened season).

He makes a ton of good solid contact and he can play a lot of positions, so he's valuable. But two years ago, he got two years, $24 million. He's definitely getting a nice raise over that. But I was thinking more along the lines of "four-ish for $70 million-ish." There's a 0.0 percent chance he's topping $100 million.

Feinsand: I was waiting for Mike to chime in with a bunch of stats to make me feel dumb. Thanks, Mike!

Matheson: I, too, hope to one day be described as "older than people think."

Feinsand: Mike, be careful with 0.0 percent. I wouldn’t say chances are high that he gets $100 million-plus, but it’s definitely a non-zero chance.

Petriello: Lower than zero, maybe.

Matheson: On the Blue Jays' side, Mark Shapiro said that, "There are still a lot of uncertainties within the budget, but not as it pertains to Major League payroll." Having Rogers, a communications company, as an ownership group presents a much different dynamic than an individual owner, but the messaging from the club continues to be that the money is there. With LeMahieu, term could be more of an issue than salary. This goes for the Springer negotiations, too, or any others that stretch beyond 2-3 seasons. By a fourth year, this young core will be getting expensive, so the Blue Jays are looking at the long-term dollars and cents of it all, too.

Feinsand: What Keegan points out about the uncertainties of Toronto’s budget likely applies to every team right now. There’s still so much we don’t know about the 2021 season -- when will it start? How many games? Will there be fans in the stands? If so, how many? -- that teams are still working on the fly when it comes to payroll budgets.

Matheson: And building off that point -- where do the Blue Jays play? If you're signing a three-year deal, for example, and one (or most of one) season comes playing out of a Spring Training stadium in Dunedin, Fla., how much does that impact your preference? The answer will vary between players, but it's a real factor to consider.

Petriello: Keegan, if Springer and LeMahieu get similar deals ... Springer is the better fit for the Jays, right? And they wouldn't get both ... also right?

Matheson: Springer makes more sense between the two not only on the surface level, but when you look at what the Blue Jays' fallback options would be. If they miss out on LeMahieu, then they can easily target an upgrade at third base and lean on the versatile Cavan Biggio more heavily at second. That's a fine outcome. Yes, the Blue Jays have Randal Grichuk in center field, but adding a player of Springer's caliber at that position is such a rare opportunity, and one they've been chasing for multiple offseasons.

The Blue Jays have plenty of high-end infield prospects coming, too, in Jordan Groshans and Austin Martin. In the outfield, their savior isn't around the corner.

Petriello: The tl;dr of all of this for me is .. well, of course he's frustrated with the Yankees, because Spring Training is supposed to start in six weeks. There are a billion unsigned free agents. We don't know if there's a DH. And hey, how about that pandemic? I don't fault him for being frustrated in the slow-moving market; I also think very little of this is DJ LeMahieu-specific.

Feinsand: Well, the Yankees know they’ll have a DH. His name is Giancarlo Stanton.

Petriello: Well sure, but presumptive National League suitors don't. Not that he'd be the DH, but maybe someone who they currently worry has to hold a glove would be, opening up a spot.

Footer: Let's wrap this up. Answer yes or no: LeMahieu will ultimately re-sign with the Yankees.

Petriello: I hate to go with the chalk, but ... yes.

Feinsand: Yes. Four years, $86 million, fifth-year option for $21 million ($8 million buyout). So $94 million total.

Matheson: Yes. With the Blue Jays, once again, being "close."

Petriello: I'll say four for $80 million with an easily attainable vesting option for a fifth.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Ballpark Dimensions podcast.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.