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The Yankees and DJ LeMahieu knew they needed to meet in the middle

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The Bombers accepted going to six years with their star infielder, but will have more financial room to operate thanks to a lower-than-anticipated AAV.

American League Division Series Game 3: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Finally, it happened! The New York Yankees got their man, as infielder DJ LeMahieu agreed to sign a six-year contract worth $90 million, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. After months of little or no movement on the free agent front, the Bombers ended up securing their “offseason priority,” as general Brian Cashman recently said.

Press reports had LeMahieu asking for at least $100 million over five years. So what happened that made both parties agree to sign a larger commitment for fewer dollars? Negotiations happened.

It’s clear that the Bombers would have loved to stay at four or five years. It was evident that the player would have preferred something closer to the reported $100 million or $110 million target. But eventually, both sides madecompromises to secure a reunion.

LeMahieu and the Yankees met in the middle and made concessions: New York went from potentially paying DJ about $20 million per season to just $15 million in average annual value (AAV), but in exchange, they will be paying LeMahieu through past his 38th birthday.

By the time LeMahieu’s contract is about to expire, his skills could be deteriorating, and that’s completely normal. Before signing with the Yankees in 2019, the 32-year-old had only surpassed 100 wRC+ once, in 2016. That means he only was an above-average hitter one season out of seven with the Colorado Rockies.

Since he got to the Bronx, however, LeMahieu posted wRC+ marks of 136 in 2019 and 177 in 2020. He led the Yankees in fWAR in both campaigns, with 5.4 and 2.5, respectively. He morphed into one of the American League’s best hitters, and won the batting title in 2020 while hitting .364.

Is it reasonable to expect him to mash like that until he is 38? Of course not, and that’s OK. So while LeMahieu sacrificed at least five million per season in terms of AAV, he got six years in his deal, one or two more than originally thought, and he will have a secure payday as opposed to hitting the market while being aged 36 or 37, with little prospects of a significant deal at that point.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic explained it well: “Look at the LeMahieu contract like this: He wanted $90M. To get it with Yankees, he had to sign for more years to bring down AAV and give team more room under luxury-tax threshold. Not way players generally approach free agency, but it makes sense considering his desires and team’s.”

He also wrote that “LeMahieu turns 33 in July. This was almost certain to be his last big deal. So, higher AAV on shorter contract meant little to him. He was unlikely to sign for meaningful dollars at 36 or 37 anyway.”

There’s a bit of risk for the Yankees, too. The $15 million AAV is an absolute steal from the team’s perspective, particularly in the early years of the deal. But LeMahieu could still get injured or fall off a cliff sooner rather than later, given that he’s entering his age-32 season and will turn 33 during the summer. LeMahieu was so good in recent years that it’d be a surprise to see his performance plummet, but such a decline in play is always a possiblity for players entering their mid-30s. The Yankees surely hope they won’t be paying deep into the 2020s for a player who returns to running sub-100 wRC+ figures

In the end, both parties understood that if they met in the middle, they could reach a conclusion where everyone felt like a winner. With LeMahieu back in the fold, the Yankees can now address their pitching needs, and LeMahieu can now relax knowing that he will finally be paid and he will play where he always wanted to play.