DJ LeMahieu, the soft-spoken infielder who for two seasons was the New York Yankees’ most productive player, on Friday morning was nearing an agreement to re-sign with the Yankees, sources close to the LeMahieu family told Yahoo Sports.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi first reported the progress. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports the deal will be for six years and $90 million. LeMahieu had sought a contract in the range of $110 million range, and few thought the pact would extend to six years.
At 32, and after playing those two seasons under the team-friendly terms of $12 million per, LeMahieu hit the market as easily the best available second baseman. Also the best third baseman. And the best first baseman. He played all three positions for the Yankees, though primarily second base, and across two seasons — 195 games — batted .336 with 36 home runs, 43 doubles and a .922 OPS. He was fourth in American League MVP balloting in 2019 and third in 2020. LeMahieu also batted .306 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 16 postseason games.
“I want to stay here,” LeMahieu told reporters as his contract was expiring. “I’ve said that a few times.”
He drew interest from a large handful of teams in the course of what is becoming a long winter for free agents, including the top-tier players. Though in recent days he’d grown weary of the pace, and even directed his representatives to initiate deeper conversations with teams other than the Yankees, LeMahieu seemed destined to return to the Bronx.
New York and LeMahieu fit each other. Yankees fans fell for the quiet, businesslike and clutch-hitting LeMahieu. Even LeMahieu’s batting approach — he’s a right-handed hitter — seemed built for Yankee Stadium. Twenty-seven of his 36 home runs as a Yankee were hit at home, and 17 of those were hit to the stadium’s short right field, his opposite field.
LeMahieu proved himself in New York
There was a complicating factor for the Yankees, who haven’t been to a World Series since 2009, finished second to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East in 2020 and were eliminated by the Rays in October: Payroll, and issues elsewhere on the roster.
Their starting pitching is long on depth but short on track record, beyond Gerrit Cole and, to some degree, Luis Severino. James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ are free agents. It also appeared they’d have to upgrade at shortstop, though Gleyber Torres would turn just 24 in December and certainly could play himself back to 2019 levels. The issue was Torres’ defense, which was subpar as a replacement for Didi Gregorius. He is better off at second base. The Yankees were as likely to trade for newly acquired Mets star Francisco Lindor or sign a mid-level shortstop along the lines of Andrelton Simmons.
The Yankees’ payroll was about $265 million in 2020 before players’ salaries were prorated. About $132 million is on the books in 2021 for eight players — Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and Adam Ottavino. With Gary Sanchez returning at catcher after a rough season at and behind the plate, that’s $140 million for nine players. The luxury tax threshold is $210 million. There was some speculation over whether that left enough room for LeMahieu, who appears to be in line for a four- or five-year contract at well above his previous rate of $12 million annually.
He’d spent seven seasons with the Colorado Rockies and at Coors Field, the hitters’ paradise that is difficult to replicate in the 29 other ballparks. Presumably that dampened LeMahieu’s market two years ago, though it turned out LeMahieu was not a product of Coors Field but rather, and simply, an excellent hitter. His numbers as a Yankee are better than those in Colorado in every way, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging.
In fact, in 2020, four years after winning the National League batting title with a .348 average for the Rockies, LeMahieu hit .364 for the Yankees and became the first player in the modern era to win a batting title in both leagues.
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