Prior to the 2019 season, the New York Yankees signed infielder DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million contract—a deal that will expire after this year. Yes, you read that right: the man who carried the Bombers last season will only play a couple of months with the club, then the postseason should they make it that far, and after that, his deal is up.
The Yankees have other expiring contracts that are also worth extending, most notably Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton. J.A. Happ may also enter the free agent market after the season. However, they should prioritize keeping LeMahieu for at least the next few years. His overall excellence would be invaluable assets for the next Yankees’ dynasty.
Signing all of them could be very hard to achieve, but if the Yankees need to pick, they should put the second baseman in front. I’m not saying that it would be easy to replace Pax or Tanaka, because they are both very, very good starters. But the club does have several options in the rotation for the long haul: Gerrit Cole isn’t going anywhere, Domingo German will come back from his suspension, Jordan Montgomery will be around, and prospects such as Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia and Mike King will likely be ready for the majors, not to mention that Luis Severino should return from Tommy John eventually.
Special hitters are worth keeping around, and that’s what LeMahieu has become. He came to the Yankees as a good batter, and morphed into a true force at the plate capable of popping homers at a 25-per-season pace, judging by his 2019 numbers.
Of course, the Yankees sure would like to see LeMahieu excel in the short 2020 season before getting into his 30s (he’s almost 32 now), but he seems well positioned to do so if we consider he broke out with his best season yet at age 31.
Last year, LeMahieu had career-highs in wRC+ with 136, home runs with 26, runs with 109, RBI with 102, ISO at .191, and fWAR at 5.4. His .327 average was the second best of his major league tenure.
The man with the underrated bat
Offense is, of course, the most impressive part of LeMahieu’s game. He slashed .327/.375/.518 and had a .375 wOBA, supported by his equally outstanding .379 expected wOBA, or xwOBA (in the 90th percentile in the league.)
If you want to know whether his performance in 2019 is sustainable, well, take a look at his Statcast profile:
All in all, we can all agree that LeMahieu was a two-way star last year, providing excellent returns on offense (29.2 rating per FanGraphs) and defense (2.8). He’s also capable of playing third and first base in addition to his usual second base.
The issue, in this case, is whether or not the Yankees believe he can repeat a similar level of performance in the next couple of years.
At this point, with so many variables in the next few months, it’s impossible to know how much will LeMahieu ask teams when he hits free agency, but the Yankees would be very smart to try and lock him up. If his early-to-mid thirties will be anything close to what he did last year, sign me up, and I tend to believe that they will.