The Yankees weren’t good enough to win the World Series in 2020. They weren’t good enough to get out of the division series. They weren’t even good enough to win the division. They weren’t good enough to simply play .500 baseball against the Astros for six games in the 2019 ALCS after winning Game 1. They haven’t been good enough to win a championship for 11 straight seasons. They haven’t even been good enough to even get to the World Series for 11 straight seasons.
I’m not sure how removing the team’s best player over the last two seasons makes them better for 2021. It doesn’t. The Yankees need to add to what they were in 2020, not subtract from it, and certainly not subtract their leadoff hitter, their one true contact hitter and the most versatile defensive player on their roster.
It’s been 10 weeks since I wrote What if Yankees Don’t Sign DJ LeMahieu It’s also been 10 weeks of the Yankees wanting him back, and 10 weeks of reports of the Mets being interested in LeMahieu and the Nationals and the Dodgers. The more this drags on, the worse I feel about LeMahieu returning to the Yankees.
A few weeks ago, on YES, Brian Cashman spoke about the negotiations with LeMahieu.
“We’re going to try to keep him here,” Cashman said. “He loves playing in New York, loves playing for the New York Yankees and our fan base, and he clearly loves his teammates. There’s a lot of things in our favor, but ultimately, it comes down to the financial opportunity that we provide, as measured to the financial opportunities that others are providing.”
I don’t know why Cashman can never just simplify his words, always speaking like a high school student trying to make sentences more wordy to meet the requirements of a six-page paper. The Yankees don’t need “to try to keep him,” they can just keep him. They can do this by offering him more money than any other team.
“We have good intentions when it comes to DJ LeMahieu and trying to re-sign him, and I think he has the same on his end,” Cashman said. “Free agency is very complicated and tricky. It’s a competition. The dance and the conversations will continue. We certainly hope for a positive outcome, but it’s also possible that there isn’t one, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Cashman and the Yankees control the potential “outcome” with LeMahieu. They don’t need to hope for a “positive outcome,” they can make it a “positive outcome!” There’s no lottery or drawing to decide which teams signs him. The Yankees don’t have to wait and see. They can get it done whenever they want.
Since 2014, LeMahieu has earned $41,238,500 (according to Baseball Reference). That’s a lot of money! It’s nowhere near what he should have earned given his production, but it’s a lot, and it doesn’t count whatever he signed for as a second-round pick in 2009 and what he earned through 2013 (when he had 227 major league games to his name). LeMahieu was grossly underpaid the last two seasons, as he made just $2 million more than Brett Gardner, $23.3 million less than Jacoby Ellsbury and $28 million less than Giancarlo Stanton, and as a 32-year-old, coming off the best two seasons of his careers, this is his last chance to cash in. While LeMahieu has made somewhere just shy of $50 million, this is likely his last multi-year contract. I’m sure he does love playing for the Yankees like Cashman says, but I’m sure he would love playing for whichever team offers him the most money.
A cool fact about the Yankees is that they make more money than any other team in the league. This fact is often forgotten, largely because Hal Steinbrenner tries to cry poor at any opportunity he can. He did so immediately after the 2020 season, saying on The Michael Kay Show the Yankees lost more money than any other team in the 60-game, fan-less 2020 season. He left out the part about the Yankees making more money than any other team in every other non-60-game, non-fan-less season, which has been every other season of Major League Baseball.
Ultimately (to use Cashman and Aaron Boone’s favorite word), it comes to down if the Yankees offer LeMahieu more than other teams offer him. If the Yankees truly want LeMahieu to be a Yankee in 2021, he will be. They can and will outbid any team for a player they want, and if LeMahieu ends up anywhere other than with the Yankees, we will know that all along the Yankees were OK with letting their best player walk. They would be OK entering 2021 without the team’s best player over the last two seasons. They would be OK with once again not doing everything they could to field the best possible team.
The longer LeMahieu is a free agent, the worse I feel about his chances of remaining a Yankee, and the worse I will feel about the Yankees’ chances in 2021 of doing what they haven’t done in more than a decade.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!