Source: David Zalubowski
The Yankees made yet another move to improve their chances of winning the World Series in 2019 by signing second baseman DJ LeMahieu to a two-year/$24 million contract.
LeMahieu is coming off of a pretty good 2018 campaign, although some would argue that it was a down year for him. Last season, LeMahieu hit a career-high 15 home runs, to go along with 62 RBI and a .276/.321/.428 slash line. You may look at those numbers and think "that's a down year?", well, in terms of home runs and RBI it was his most home runs in a season and third most RBI. Where the year was down for him is in the slash line. He only hit .276 which was a full 34 points down from the season prior. In fact, from 2015 to 2017, LeMahieu averaged a slash line of .319/.383/.430, while winning the batting title in 2016 with a league-best .348 batting average. I think there's a good chance that LeMahieu will have a bounce-back year in the batting average department, as long as he gets everyday at-bats. The reason I think this is because of his BABIP. From 2015 to 2017, the years that LeMahieu had his best batting averages, his BABIP was .362, .388 and .351, respectively. This past season, his BABIP was only .298. Quite the drop-off from the previous three years, which leads me to conclude that LeMahieu was a bit unlucky last season. Another positive part of LeMahieu's offensive game is the number of times he strikes out in a season. LeMahieu has been a full-time starter for the better part of six seasons and he has only struck out 100+ times in one of those years -- 107 times in 2015. Possibly the biggest question mark surrounding LeMahieu's offensive output will be how he fares without the benefit of Coors Field being his home park. Last season his home/away splits were quite drastic:
Home: 67 games, 309 PA, 90 hits, 4 HR, 30 RBI, .317/.360/.433, .351 BABIPAway: 60 games, 272 PA, 57 hits, 11 HR, 32 RBI, .229/.277/.422, .232 BABIP
Oddly, he almost tripled his home run numbers when he was outside of the thin air of Coors Field, but just about everything else was better at home. His batting average was almost 90 points higher at home than away, the same goes for his OBP. Some of it can be attributed to the vast difference in BABIP, but this is obviously something that will be worth watching for. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how he adjusts to life outside of Coors Field.
Another big reason why the Yankees made this move is because of LeMahieu's defensive abilities. In his six full seasons, LeMahieu has won three Gold Gloves (2014, 2017, 2018). His 18 defensive runs saved last season were a career high and is a much-needed upgrade seeing as how none of the Yankees' starting infielders from last season had a positive DRS -- Gleyber Torres was the best among Yankees' starting infielders with -1 DRS, meaning that LeMahieu saved a full 19 runs more than any Yankees infielder. Now, the most interesting part of the LeMahieu signing is where exactly is he going to play? LeMahieu has primarily been a second baseman his whole career but has played 13 innings at first base (none since 2014), 245 innings at third base (none since 2014) and 4 innings at shortstop (again, none since 2014). So, I have taken the liberty to list out the possible scenarios in which LeMahieu will be an everyday starter for the Yankees this season:
Note: These are all under the assumption that Troy Tulowitzki is the starting shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns, which Brian Cashman has said he will be.
#1: 1B - DJ LeMahieu, 2B - Gleyber Torres, SS - Troy Tulowitzki, 3B - Miguel Andujar
#2: 1B - Luke Voit/Greg Bird, 2B - Gleyber Torres, SS - Troy Tulowitzki, 3B - DJ LeMahieu, DH - Miguel Andujar, LF - Giancarlo Stanton
#3: 1B - Luke Voit/Greg Bird, 2B - DJ LeMahieu, SS - Troy Tulowitzki, 3B - Gleyber Torres, DH - Miguel Andujar, LF - Giancarlo Stanton
#4: 1B - Miguel Andujar, 2B - Gleyber Torres, SS - Troy Tulowitzki, 3B - DJ LeMahieu
#5: 1B - Miguel Andujar, 2B - DJ LeMahieu, SS - Troy Tulowitzki, 3B - Gleyber Torres
I could see any of these variations happening.
#1 seems the least likely just because LeMahieu doesn't have much experience at first and putting his glove at first would be a waste, in my opinion. He's much more valuable at any of the other three positions.
#2 and #3 may be the most realistic scenarios. Whoever plays second or third between Torres and LeMahieu all depends on who the team feels is most comfortable at third. LeMahieu obviously has the experience and hardware at second base, but if he turns out to be a better third baseman than Gleyber, then that's where he'll play. Even if neither of them is fully comfortable in the hot corner, it will be an improvement over playing Andujar there, whose glove is a serious liability.
#4 and #5 will come down to whether the team wants to keep Brett Gardner in the lineup or one of Luke Voit/Greg Bird.
If I had to guess, I would say that they start the season with scenario #2, but we'll probably see all of these scenarios at some point during the season unless the team makes another personnel move between now and then.
This is a solid move for the Yankees, especially if LeMahieu can get his batting average back up in the .300s. This move does, however, make it highly unlikely that the Yankees sign Manny Machado, which I have been a strong advocate of for years now. The door isn't completely closed, Machado's price may drop so much that the Yankees see it as worthwhile, but that seems doubtful at this point. Just for fun though, here's a Yankees defensive lineup if Machado and LeMahieu were on the team:
1B - DJ LeMahieu, 2B - Gleyber Torres, SS - Troy Tulowitzki, 3B - Manny Machado, DH - Miguel Andujar, LF - Giancarlo Stanton
It could work.
HOT TAKE ALERT: The Yankees have now signed Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu in an attempt to sign Nolan Arenado when he becomes a free agent after this upcoming season, in order to re-unite the three of them in pinstripes once again. Please credit @BrooksPrimo and @LaymansSports when this happens.
Source: Getty Images