DJ LeMahieu's position change might've raised his Yankees ceiling for 2024

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees
Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees / Adam Hunger/GettyImages

There might be an added benefit to Josh Donaldson leaving the New York Yankees -- you know, besides ditching a .180 hitter with a negative clubhouse aura score.

Turns out, adding third base to DJ LeMahieu's offseason docket might've strengthened his resolve as he began his offseason preparation. Combine that with the sour taste already firmly lodged in his mouth from the way 2023 unfolded, and you have a Terminator hell-bent on executing efficiently in 2024.

Based on the early reads out of camp, LeMahieu is both Aaron Judge's and Aaron Boone's ideal leadoff hitter for 2024, and given how often he utilized his particular set of skills down the stretch (.799 OPS, .266 average in his last 48 games), there's certainly a chance he approaches his current ceiling this season instead of falling disastrously short.

According to spring training eyewitnesses, the third baseman -- now officially -- looks even better in February than he did in September. Boone credits LeMahieu's offseason rejuvenation to regaining strength in his troublesome toe. That's obviously a large part of the foundation being relaid (and has us nervously giggling about Aaron Judge).

Based on LeMahieu's description of his offseason, though, it seems the permanent shift to third base had something to do with his dogged prep, too. The position requires the highest amount of reps for LeMahieu to get comfortable, which appears to have kickstarted his focus a little early this year.

Yankees' DJ LeMahieu motivated to be better leadoff hitter, third baseman in 2024

Said LeMahieu to The Athletic's Brendan Kuty (subscription required):

“I definitely have to work the hardest at it, harder than the other two positions I play. But I think I feel pretty comfortable over there and I’ve enjoyed playing over there the last few years. It doesn’t really affect my mentality at all, whether I play there the majority of the time or somewhere else.”

That penchant for hard work, with the dangling carrot of third base readiness always in front of him, allowed LeMahieu to turn the page with force a few days after 2023 wrapped.

Flipping to 2024 with a vengeance -- following a brief period of introspection -- seems like the unifying theme of the current Yankees. LeMahieu took very few days off, then got back after it in an effort to hit reset. Carlos Rodón fled to the woods, then swiftly focused on getting trimmer and erasing his own nightmarish opening salvo. Nestor Cortes Jr., unsatisfied with his own rehab, came to Tampa. Where better for a new beginning?

If LeMahieu ends up resembling his old self a little more than usual, it seems fair to credit his increased mobility, from both the dissipation of the toe issue and his work at the hot corner. Ideally, the 35-year-old being in the best mental shape of his life, complete with laser focus, matters just as much as his improved physicality.