DJ LeMahieu's versatility provides Yankees with insurance

While the Yankees may have missed out on the free agent market’s biggest names this Winter, the team landed a pretty nice consolation prize when it signed infielder DJ LeMahieu back in January. The contract, which spans two years, and will cost New York $24 million, looks like a potential steal for the ball club.

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Over the last four years in Colorado, LeMahieu has made two trips to the All-Star game and has hit over .300 three times. This includes his 2016 campaign in which he led Major League Baseball in hitting with a .348 batting average. While he isn’t known for his power (only two seasons of ten or more home runs), the ability to consistently make contact is a huge deal for a Yankees lineup already loaded with sluggers. New York ranked first in MLB with 267 home runs, but just 16th in batting average at .249 in 2018.

Defensively, the 30-year-old has proven he knows how to flash the leather. LeMahieu is a three-time Gold Glove winner at second base and his 18 defensive runs saved led all second baseman last year. And while he only has 41 career appearances away from the keystone, Aaron Boone has already made it known that the team plans to use him at first and third base as well. This is where the California native becomes most valuable to the Yankees.

As currently constructed, the Yankees’ 2019 infield is littered with uncertainty. At first base, 2018 second-half darling Luke Voit and perpetual disappointment Greg Bird are set to duke it out in Spring Training. While Voit hit .333 with 14 home runs in 132 at-bats for the Bombers last year, he’s still very much a question mark. The 28-year-old had just 268 career at-bats before coming over from St. Louis in the Chasen Shreve trade, and was considered more of a triple-A stud than MLB contributor.

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Additionally, Yankees fans know that Greg Bird can’t be relied upon until proven otherwise. Bird is a career .214 hitter that has been ravaged by injury throughout his professional career. Because of this, LeMahieu may be needed at first base for elongated stretches of the 2019 season. If neither Voit nor Bird have a productive Spring, it’s very possible he could be the Opening Day first baseman. Think of LeMahieu as an upgrade to the role Neil Walker was in last season.

Over at shortstop, Didi Gregorius is expected to miss at least the first few months of the season while he recovers from October Tommy John surgery. The first man up to replace the Yankees’ charismatic leader will be Troy Tulowitzki. In his prime, “Tulo” was one of the best in the game, but he’s only played over 91 games in three of the last seven seasons, and at age 34, after missing all of the 2018 season, that doesn’t seem likely to improve. Even in the best-case scenario, Tulowitzki will likely sit two or three times per week, forcing Gleyber Torres over to shortstop and placing LeMahieu at his regular position of second base.

Photo Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday
There’s also a chance for DJ LeMahieu to make starts at third base if Miguel Andujar’s defense doesn’t improve in his second Big League season. As a rookie, Andujar ranked dead last amongst qualified third basemen in both defensive runs saved (-25) and ultimate zone rating (-16). If that doesn’t change, it would make sense for the Yankees to use Andujar at DH a few days per week and put LeMahieu at third base. All in all, it’s easy to see LeMahieu starting five or six days per week around the diamond.

It’s worth noting that the former Colorado Rocky certainly benefitted from the friendly confines of Coors Field. LeMahieu is a career .330 hitter (.835 OPS) at home, while he has just a .264 batting average (.673 OPS) on the road. However, there’s a chance that won’t be all that much of an issue considering he’s moving to another hitter-friendly park in Yankee Stadium. Ultimately, there’s a possibility for this to be one of the better signings of the offseason, and it will work out best if LeMahieu is able to work in a versatile, utility role for the Yankees.

Article by: Jake Graziano


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