We often joke about how front office executives have secret Twitter handles, or they read blogs, like ours, to gauge the general feeling around the team. Sometimes the team ends up doing what we suggest and we like to take credit for a decision that we surely did not influence. Sometimes, the Yankees hack our minds and do the things we want them to before we even tell them to. So when I wanted to complain about DJ LeMahieu’s lack of playing time at first base, they promptly had him start there yesterday.
I’ve hated the idea of DJ LeMahieu being the utility infielder ever since they signed him for that role. It’s nothing against LeMahieu particularly, just the fact that he’s never been in that role before. In his eight seasons, he’s played 941 games and 892 of those have come at second base. Now he’s an excellent defender at second, but that’s really all he’s done. He has 41 games of experience at third, which isn’t awful, but only four games at shortstop and first.
From 2011-2014, he made a whopping one appearance per year at first base. Since 2014, he hasn’t played a game anywhere besides second base. That doesn’t exactly scream utilityman to me, but what do I know? It’s not like they had other options or anything. It would’ve been great if someone like Marwin Gonzalez were a free agent...
Then last week, reporters asked Aaron Boone about the tight first base competition between Greg Bird and Luke Voit. The way they’re playing, both deserve a chance on the active roster, but Boone wasn’t so sure:
“It is tough for me to envision us having two first basemen,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Especially when I feel like [DJ] LeMahieu would get some backup reps there.”
Personally, I believe that both players should break camp with the team. My ideal scenario is one where Brett Gardner is relegated to the bench as fourth outfielder and Giancarlo Stanton primarily handles left field.
Now there’s a chance things could shake out in a way that’d still allow both Bird and Voit to make the team. If Aaron Hicks’ injury keeps him out longer than expected, then the team could bring both Bird and Voit with them as long as they feel comfortable with Tyler Wade being the fourth outfielder. This would especially work with the way Clint Frazier has been playing. Still though, Hicks thinks he’ll be back for Opening Day, and even if he didn’t, we know the Yankees clearly still see Gardner as an everyday outfielder. So that doesn’t leave much room for Voit and Bird.
It may not be on Opening Day, but there’s going to be a point where DJ LeMahieu is the primary backup at first base. And he’s only played four games there in eight years — and none in the last four. Obviously, first base is the “easy” position and it’s generally where teams stash their worst defender (except the Yankees stash theirs at third base). So a defender as excellent LeMahieu should at least play passably at the “easy” position.
That said, we’ve witnessed how the Yankees forcing players to play positions that aren’t natural to them can turn out bad, even at first base (see: Rob Refsnyder and Alex Rodriguez). LeMahieu needs his reps there. Up until yesterday, he only played third and second base, where he figures to get most of his playing time. And that’s great, but between him, Gleyber Torres, and Tyler Wade, the rest of the infield is covered. If the Yankees don’t “envision” having two first basemen on the roster, it’s just LeMahieu behind Bird or Voit.
Yesterday was a good first step in making sure LeMahieu’s ready for the role he’s never performed. There’s still two weeks left of spring training, and the Yankees need to make sure he keeps getting his work in.