New York’s favorite cyborg has been dropping hints that he wants to stay in New York past the end of his two-year, $24-million deal, and is open to working on an extension — but should the Yankees go there? While the initial answer to, “Should they hold onto one of their best players?” at the surface should be a resounding “Of course!”, there’s a lot beneath the surface to sift through.
Why the Yankees should get an extension wrapped up early
DJ LeMahieu has been one of the best players, not only on the Yankees, but in the American League, and would be a frontrunner for the AL MVP Award if Mike Trout (whose injury likely will not affect his chances significantly) did not exist. He’s put forward the best season of his career, with a 135 OPS+, a .328 batting average, almost 60 multi-hit games, and a career-high 24 home runs. Furthermore, his launch angle is at a career-high 6.5 degrees, while his hard-hit percentage of 47% only slightly higher than his career average. All this combines to imply that, though he may see a bit of regression in his age-32 season next year, his improvements are more sustainable as they are the result of a change in approach, not random chance.
Additionally, LeMahieu has shown an ability to play above-average defense at every infield position except shortstop (and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were at least passable at the position) — and, as we have seen this year, that sort of flexibility is not something to be overlooked.
Why it would be prudent to wait
Make no mistake, there’s a reason LeMahieu is floating the idea of an extension now: his value is at an all-time high, while his age means that he will never receive a big, long-term deal. Immediately following the end of his best season is the perfect time to try and get an extra year or two tacked onto his contract, and to perhaps get some additional money added. It’s a smart play by LeMahieu and his agent.
It could also be a bit risky for the Yankees. Although there are signs that his play is sustainable, it has only been one season, so they would be banking on projection, not results. Before this year, LeMahieu only had one season with an OPS+ over 100 — back in 2016, when he had an OPS+ of 128 and won the NL batting title.
LeMahieu’s floor — a top defender with a bat that is not a black hole — is fairly high, and his ceiling is...well, 2019. Paying him top dollar and getting his ceiling would be a steal, while getting his floor would probably make the Yankees wish they’d just let him play out his deal and gone from there.
What should the Yankees do?
It might be best for all parties involved to split the difference: instead of signing a full-blown long-term extension, tack on an extra year or two, at a higher annual rate, that would keep LeMahieu in the Bronx through 2021 or 2022. Then, when the time comes, the two sides could part ways, or negotiate to keep the Machine in the Bronx even longer.