$25 million is a lot of money to you and me. It’s a lot of money for almost everyone, really.
$25 million is not a lot of money as far as the New York Yankees’ payroll is concerned.
Yet, $25 million is what is standing between the New York Yankees and keeping DJ LeMahieu on the roster. The actual figure might be a touch higher, but if it was far more extreme, it likely would’ve been reported. And, although this isn’t an insurmountable gap between the two parties, it sure seems like things are heading that way.
Ken Rosenthal is reporting that LeMahieu will now be speaking to other teams:
Gap between Yankees and LeMahieu larger than $25M, sources tell The Athletic. LeMahieu is Yankees’ No. 1 priority and the two sides continue to talk, but the free-agent infielder also plans to start engaging with other teams. On it: @BrendanKutyNJ— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 14, 2020
LeMahieu is coming off of a two-year, $24 million contract that seemed like a reach at the time (you can go back and search, we even have the receipts proving how wrong we were). To say that he’s put himself in line for a massive raise is an understatement. Since coming to New York without a finite role, he has hit .336, won a batting title, become a clubhouse leader, authored up one of the most clutch Yankees postseason home runs of the last 20 years, and done just about everything the Yankees could have dreamed. LeMahieu is their best contact hitter, has drastically improved his power numbers, and capably fields three different positions.
The Yankees saw that production as worthy of a raise from a $12 million AAV to a $18.75 million AAV, reportedly offering LeMahieu a four-year, $75 million contract. That would make LeMahieu the third-highest-paid second baseman in Major League Baseball today. LeMahieu, as is his right, thinks he’s worth more. He’s reportedly asking for an extra year and at least an extra $1.25 million annually, to the tune of a five-year, $100 million deal; thus, the roughly $25 million impasse that has been reported.
Quite simply, the Yankees letting one year and $25 million stand in their way of keeping LeMahieu would be a massive mistake. He provides everything the Yankees are looking for, and his absence would be nearly impossible to replace. Yes, paying a 37-year-old LeMahieu $20 million in that fifth year will be tough. He probably won’t provide that kind of value then. However, with contracts like these, teams are paying for the upfront value. CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez weren’t “worth” their contracts in their respective final years, but the 2009 championship ring they all share wouldn’t have been possible without them. It’s easier to forgive an overpay in year five when there’s a World Series title within the first four years.
Now, this isn’t to say that re-signing LeMahieu will guarantee a championship. So far, his presence alone hasn’t been able to do that. But keeping him around gives the Yankees the best chance to do so. The team made its big splash in adding Gerrit Cole last year, filling what seemed to be the final glaring weakness for the club. In time, new issues have manifested. Letting LeMahieu go strictly in the interest of saving money would only compound and add to these weaknesses, and it would leave the Yankees worse off than they were at season’s end.
There is one scenario in which letting LeMahieu go is a good idea – if the Yankees were aiming to replace him with a younger, better player. That person’s name could be Francisco Lindor, the All-Star Cleveland shortstop who is reportedly on the trade block. Letting LeMahieu leave, trading for Lindor, and moving Gleyber Torres to second base does make the Yankees better long-term than keeping LeMahieu and leaving Torres at short. Unfortunately, there are issues with this plan, too.
For one, the Yankees might not be able to offer as good a trade package as some other teams keen on acquiring Lindor. Furthermore, if the Yankees were to get him, they’d have to pay him approximately $20 million this year, and subsequently sign him to a lengthy extension that could possibly top $200 million.
Think about it this way – if the Yankees aren’t even comfortable giving LeMahieu $100 million, is there any confidence in suggesting that they’d shell out $200 million or more for a prime Lindor? Given the team’s self-imposed budgetary restrictions, it would seem unlikely.
This leaves us with the doomsday scenario, in which the Yankees let LeMahieu leave over a fairly insignificant amount of money and then fail to replace him with a player of equal or superior skill. This leaves the Yankees worse than they were on October 9, 2020, when the season ended. It’ll keep the team under budget, but that’s not a win on the field or for the fans – it’s just a win for the bottom line.
It’s concerning that the Yankees aren’t willing to dish out what it takes to keep their best player of the past two seasons, and don't seem to have a backup plan that will actually improve the team. Just four days ago, Cashman said that “the intent is there” to re-sign LeMahieu.
A $25 million impasse doesn’t sound like intent. Meet him in the middle, Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner easily has the capacity to make it so. Whether it’s conceding the fifth year or increasing the AAV, do what it takes to get this done. Unless a Francisco Lindor is walking through the door to replace him (which seems unlikely), the Yankees can’t afford to let LeMahieu walk.