DJ LeMahieu’s contract comes to an end after the 2020 season, and the Yanks are faced with an important decision as to whether to re-sign him.
One of the slickest bank robberies ever pulled off in MLB was the signing of DJ LeMahieu in January 2019 for a “measly” $24 million over two years by GM thief extraordinaire Brian Cashman. Bonafide superstars such as Manny Machado and Bryce Harper also were on the market that winter, demanding boatloads of money, but Cashman wisely decided that they were not worth the high price they were demanding.
So how well has LeMahieu played? He has been unbelievable, hands down. He was the Bombers’ most valuable player in 2019, and the veteran is currently leading the AL in batting average (.363 after hitting over .400 until recently) and posting a .922 OPS. He has been one of the lone bright spots for a hugely disappointing Yankee club in 2020.
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And this violet does not shrink in the competitive postseason. He earned a .976 OPS in the Yanks’ three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS and a 1.029 OPS against the Houston Astros in the ALCS. In addition to being one of the best hitters on the planet, he also can play either first, second, shortstop, or third base at a Gold Glove level when called upon.
During this off season, free agents may have a tough time attracting the large sums of money they have been able to in previous years. While financials remain to be sorted out, the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic may result in fewer signings of medium- and high-priced free agents. Even then, I expect that DJ, who turned 32 this past July, will receive between $20 and $25 million a year for five years from either the Yankees or another club.
Along with Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge, DJ has become one of the stronger player voices during the Aaron Boone era. His clubhouse presence is yet another benefit he brings to the table.
What other moves can the Yankees make?
The Yanks have a variety of other personnel issues to address this offseason, particularly concerning how the team will handle the pitching situation with Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton also headed for free agency. J. A. Happ has a vesting option for 2021 for $17 million he likely will not meet (pro-rated 165 innings pitched or 27 starts, so…10 starts). The Yanks will certainly let him go if possible, given his erratic pitching performance of late, his high salary, and his age (he will be 38 next month).
Zack Britton and Giancarlo Stanton can both opt out, but neither will in this present financial climate. Brett Gardner, who turned 37 a few weeks ago, has a $10 million 2021 team option, which can be canceled for $2.5 million. His offense in 2020 has been quite disappointing (he only has a .170 batting average and three home runs) compared to last year, and the club will likely decide to save some money, part ways with him, and make room for some youth. Clint Frazier, who has played surprisingly very well this year both offensively and defensively (what a great story), continues to mature and develop, and he is waiting in the wings to take over for Gardy (unless the Yanks trade him).
Both Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have expensive arbitration years on the horizon, and there is a good chance that “Strikeout” Sanchez will be traded during this offseason. The Bombers desperately need to upgrade their catching position, and they will attempt to do this during the coming offseason. Perhaps he can be packaged with Miguel Andujar and be traded for an outstanding young starter (or reliever) or a superb catcher (if they decide not to pursue J.T. Realmuto or another elite catcher during the offseason in free agency).
At the end of the day, there may not be enough cash (or willingness) to afford to pay both Tanaka and Paxton. The team may be forced to let one of the two pitchers go. My bet is it will be Paxton, given the significant drop in his velo.
No doubt, the Bombers also will seriously consider injury proneness in upcoming negotiations with current players. It will be interesting to see how they deal with this issue regarding Judge, in particular. My guess is that they will attempt to negotiate milestones and incentive clauses to protect themselves, and why not?
Frequent injuries are certainly not a problem with LeMahieu, who has generally avoided very long stretches on the IL during his 10-year MLB career. Most recently, he had 655 plate appearances in 145 games for the Yanks in 2019. The Yanks MUST open up their checkbook and do everything they can to re-sign their most valuable and reliable player.