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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: DJ LeMahieu

The second baseman might seem like a clunky fit, but perhaps he deserves a second look.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

One of the primary themes of our free agent target posts has been a contingency plan in case the Yankees don’t sign Manny Machado. At the end of the day, the Yankees probably should just sign Machado. Reports are he wants to be a Yankee, and the Yankees just need to pony up the requisite sum to make it happen. He is a superstar, and a superstar at a position of need that costs only money should be the Yankees’ priority.

Of course, Machado made it clear his decision would not come before the new year, so here we are, continuing to speculate about what the Yankees could do if Machado spurns them for the White Sox, Phillies, or some mystery team. One name that hasn’t been connected much to the Yankees is infielder DJ LeMahieu.

In some ways, it’s curious that the Yankees haven’t expressed any interest in LeMahieu. They are clearly in the market for an infielder, and if they’ve flashed interest in the likes of Freddy Galvis and Adeiny Hechavarria, then they’ve already shown that they’re willing to dredge towards the bottom of the market.

In truth, the Yankees likely haven’t been connected to LeMahieu because the fit just might not be there. LeMahieu is a second baseman, and one that expects to start after a solid tenure with the Rockies. He could in theory fill in at second with Gleyber Torres shifting over to shortstop in Didi Gregroius’ absence. Upon Gregorius’ return, however, LeMahieu would be in a tight spot in terms of securing playing time.

Even so, there’s a compelling argument the Yankees should at least kick the tires on LeMahieu. Most advanced hitting metrics aren’t particularly enamored with LeMahieu’s work at the plate, but in spite of that he’s been able to post quality WAR totals because of his value as a defender and runner. He’s recorded nearly 14 WAR per Baseball Reference across the past four seasons, with a .309/.369/.429 slash line that, thanks to park adjustments, equates to only a 100 OPS+.

FanGraphs’ all-encompassing hitting statistic, wRC+, also pegs LeMahieu as a mediocre hitter, in large part because it dings hitters like him for playing at the friendly confines of Coors Field. In the field of sophisticated batting metrics, however, there’s emerged some sort of debate about the extent to which hitters should be penalized for calling Colorado home.

This month, Baseball Prospectus unveiled their newest hitting statistic, Deserved Runs Created Plus, or DRC+. Like wRC+ and OPS+, DRC+ attempts to encapsulate all the things a hitter does with the bat, and adjust it so that 100 is league average, higher is better, and lower is worse. I encourage you to read through some of BP’s extensive literature on the matter.

One of the ways in which DRC+ differentiates itself is that it does not ding hitters that play for the Rockies as much as other metrics. BP has come to the conclusion that sabermetrics in general have taken too harsh a view of Colorado’s hitters. Thus, DRC+ actually pegs LeMahieu as a good batter. His 105 career DRC+ is strong, and he’s posted marks of 107, 133, 106, and 105 over the past four years, respectively.

Consequently, LeMahieu rates excellently by BP’s value metric, WARP. He’s been among the best second basemen in the game since 2015, totaling nearly 18 WARP and profiling essentially as an All-Star. If you take WARP’s view of LeMahieu, then he’s hitting the market after a string of three five-win seasons.

That kind of production is juxtaposed with LeMahieu’s expected market. MLB Trade Rumors pegged him for just two years and $18 million. FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel predicted two years and $22 million. Honestly, that feels light for the two or three-win player that FanGraphs currently projects LeMahieu to be. If you take the view of DRC+, then those paltry two-year predictions appear to be almost minuscule.

LeMahieu is entering the market at age-30 and has rated well defensively at an important position. There’s reason to believe his bat is better than some metrics show. Either way, he’d make for a potentially attractive option for the Yankees, perhaps even if Machado does come to the Bronx. Regardless of whether the Yankees land a superstar, they would do well to at least inquire on LeMahieu’s interest in contributing to their infield.