DJ LeMahieu paid tribute to Masahiro Tanaka at the very start of his Yankees re-introductory press conference.
After a far-too-long wait for both Yankees fans and the player himself, DJ LeMahieu’s new six-year contract became official Wednesday night, and his re-introductory press conference hit Zoom’s airwaves Thursday afternoon.
Unfortunately, his “first day” in pinstripes did come with a dark side.
Though we’ve known it was coming for months, the official departure of Masahiro Tanaka to the Rakuten Golden Eagles dropped on Thursday when he announced a one-year, $7.7 million pact that presumably allows him to test MLB’s waters again next offseason.
2021 will be partially defined by the Yankees’ budget crunch, and LeMahieu — taking a cue from the fanbase he seems to understand so well — started his press conference by paying homage to Tanaka, a great teammate who he’ll surely miss.
Knowing how DJ operates, you can be sure it’s gnawing at him a bit that his return signaled Tanaka’s departure.
It didn’t have to be this way, but it was.
LeMahieu’s return was treated by most Yankees insiders as just as inevitable as Tanaka finding his money elsewhere, and though things seemed dicey for a while there, that ultimately turned out to be the case.
The second baseman addressed the “frustration” he reportedly felt during the interminable wait, and, much like a grounder in the hole, he had an excellent angle on that, too. Yes, he wanted to return. Yes, he wanted to explore. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
As for where this roster sits, harboring a little bit of flexibility but mostly finalized ahead of the 2021 season? LeMahieu feels great.
In fact, he believes — like many fans should, when they recalibrate their assessment in hindsight — that the 2020 Yankees were better than the Rays team that ran them out of the playoffs.
They simply didn’t get the breaks, and his them at the exact wrong time.
Aroldis Chapman would certainly agree with LeMahieu here.
The present and future are both bright with The Machine locked into his uniform long-term.
If only a certain stalwart righty were still here to share in the celebration.