When the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a two-year deal prior to the 2019 season, I complained. At the time, the team was looking at LeMahieu to be their utility infielder and much of their planning hinged on Troy Tulowitzki being
good alive healthy. The reason I hated this move was because prior to his tenure in New York, LeMahieu played 94 percent of his games at second base. That doesn’t really scream “utility infielder,” and I was upset that they didn’t sign someone like Marwin Gonzalez instead, who actually had plenty of experience all around the diamond.
It’s now been two years since the Yankees showed why I shouldn’t be in charge of baseball decision and in that time, Gonzalez was exposed in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal while toeing the line for the Twins between below-average (93 wRC+ in 2019) and outright bad (66 wRC+ in 2020). Over the same time period, LeMahieu showed that he wasn’t just a man; he’s a machine.
2020 Statistics: 50 games, .364*/.421*/.590, 10 HR, 27 RBI, 177 OPS+, 2.8 bWAR, 2.5 fWAR (*Led MLB)
2021 Contract Status: Free Agent
In a year as [screaming_sound.mp3] as 2020 has been, it’s nice to have some semblance of reliability or consistency. Change is scary and consistency lends comfort, and nothing was more reliable or consistent for the Yankees than LeMahieu’s play in 2020. Outside of a positive COVID test that kept him out of the Opening Day lineup and a thumb injury that led to a mid-August stint on the 10-day injured list, the infielder played every game possible for the Yankees and helped lead them back to the playoffs.
In a team that features Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, it was DJ LeMahieu who constantly emerged as the batter fans most wanted to see at the plate. Regardless of the situation, if there was a chance to get him another plate appearance, the confidence was there that the team still had a chance. For everything good “The Machine” did at the plate, his glove continued to be equally valuable.
Thanks to the emergence of Luke Voit as one of the premier power hitters in the league, LeMahieu was able to mostly move back to second base in 2020, playing there in 37 of his 50 games. He also spent some time at first and third, backing up Voit and the Yankees’ other emerging star corner infielder, Gio Urshela.
I could go on and on and figure out different ways to tell you how incredible LeMahieu was, but the fact is really simple: he was the Yankees’ best hitter in 2020, the team MVP, and a worthy contender for AL MVP. There’s a case to be made that LeMahieu’s season was even better than the two players that finished ahead of him, but awards in a 60-game season are hardly worth getting upset about, especially when all three had similar numbers. He finished third behind the José Abreu of the White Sox and Cleveland’s José Ramírez. He took his already-stellar 2019 campaign and was even better in 2020. It’s impossible to tell if he would’ve kept up his pace in a full season, but there’s no reason to doubt he would.
The real discussion around LeMahieu now revolves around which uniform he’ll be donning in 2021 and beyond. He does have a compensation pick attached to him after rejecting the qualifying offer, but that shouldn’t hinder a team from signing a player of his caliber Fortunately for Yankees fans, it seems like there’s mutual interest in a reunion (side note: #$$$$ will now and forever be my favorite hashtag). It’s just a matter of whether or not the Yankees will actually negotiate or make him one offer, slap a photoshop on the scoreboard, and tell him all about pride, power, and the glue that holds everything together: da pinstripez.
*Season statistics provided courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs