DJ LeMahieu was supposed to be a Ray. The Rays offered LeMahieu the chance to be their everyday second baseman for a similar amount of money the Yankees were offering him to not be their starting second baseman. The Yankees couldn’t give LeMahieu their starting second base job with Gleyber Torres at the position and Didi Gregorius blocking Torres from moving to shortstop, but what Cashman could offer LeMahieu was the opportunity to be an everyday player at multiple positions. Before LeMahieu could sign with the Rays, the Yankees improved their offer, flexing the financial might they should always flex when they really, really want a certain player, and LeMahieu became a Yankee rather than a Ray.
Can you imagine the 2019 or 2020 Yankees without LeMahieu? I can’t. Even worse, can you imagine him as a Ray? The Rays already proved themselves to be the better and more complete team than the Yankees this season, so just think about how much better they would be with the unshiftable LeMahieu in their well-balanced lineup and the multi-position LeMahieu as part of their deep position player roster. Cashman likes to refer to the Rays’ lineup as a “Swiss Army Knife” for Kevin Cash to utilize, well, LeMahieu is the most Swiss Army Knife player in the majors. Think about the Yankees without LeMahieu, their only true contact hitter, and think about how not having him would likely mean a full-time role for Tyler Wade.
On Opening Day 2019, LeMahieu wasn’t even in the starting lineup. He sat on the bench as the Yankees beat up on the Orioles with his Yankees debut coming in the second game of the season. In that game, he started at the unfamiliar third base and batted ninth. Of course, he went 2-for-4 with a double. The following day, he batted ninth again, and again he picked up two hits to go along with two walks.
Through Apr. 19, Aaron Boone and the analytics department batted LeMahieu ninth (two times), seventh (three times), fifth (four times), leadoff (three times), sixth (five times) and third (once). It wasn’t until Apr. 20 when LeMahieu became the Yankees’ permanent leadoff hitter, and even then there were a few games when he was dropped down to second against right-handed starters, so the Yankees could force Aaron Hicks into the leadoff spot.
LeMahieu hit .327/.375/.518 in his first season as a Yankee, was named the starting second baseman for the AL All-Star Team and won his first Silver Slugger award. He set career-highs in hits (197), runs (109), doubles (33), home runs (26) and RBIs (102). He was the Yankees’ MVP and nearly the league MVP, finishing fourth behind Mike Trout (OK), Alex Bregman (OK) and Marcus Semien (not OK). He also nearly became the first player in major league history to win the batting title in both leagues with his .327, but was narrowly beaten by the White Sox’ Tim Anderson who only appeared in 22 fewer games.
In the postseason, he posted a .976 OPS in the three-game ALDS sweep of the Twins and then topped that with a 1.029 OPS in the six-game ALCS loss to the Astros. It was his two-out, ninth-inning heroics that momentarily saved the Yankees’ season before Aroldis Chapman ended in the bottom half of the inning. LeMahieu finished the postseason going 13-for-40 (.325), with three doubles, three home runs, seven RBIs, four walks, a .386 on-base percentage and .625 slugging percentage. He single-handedly tried to carry the Yankees to the World Series with his 1.011 postseason OPS, but unfortunately he was only helped by Gleyber Torres in October.
This season, LeMahieu hit as if the 2019 season never ended. Despite, the nearly nine-month layoff between Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS and his first game in 2020, LeMahieu never stopped hitting. He avenged his batting title loss to Anderson from last season, becoming the first hitter in major league history to win the batting title in both leagues with a .364 average. His 41 runs scored in 50 games were the equivalent of 133 over 162 games and his 10 home runs were the 162-game equivalent to 32. He set career-highs in average, on-base percentage (.421), slugging percentage (.590), OPS (1.011) and OPS+ (177), and led the league in average, on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+. He didn’t have a postseason like he had in 2019, but he still managed to hit .281, recording multiple hits in three of the Yankees’ seven games.
There’s a good chance when LeMahieu struck out (the most unlikely result for a plate appearance of his) against Diego Castillo in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS it was the last time Yankees fans would have the privilege of watching him hit as a Yankee.
LeMahieu will become a free agent at the conclusion of the World Series, and given the Yankees’ league-high payroll in 2020 coupled with the loss of revenue from a shortened, fan-less season and the uncertainty of what the 2021 season will look like, you better believe the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees will act as though they’re suddenly poor, and unable to bring back a player they desperately need. Steinbrenner has already said in interviews the Yankees lost more money than any other team in baseball in 2020, conveniently forgetting the Yankees make more money than any other team in baseball every other season.
Without LeMahieu the Yankees’ one-dimensional lineup becomes even more one dimensional and the strikeout-prone Yankees become even more strikeout prone. Without LeMahieu, the Yankees lose their leadoff hitter, though they will happily replace him at the top of the order with Hicks since they have done everything they can to give Hicks that spot, LeMahieu just wouldn’t let them. Without LeMahieu, they lose their starting second baseman, who can also play third base and first base, and without LeMahieu, they lose an easy-to-love fan favorite who has done nothing other than be great as a Yankee.
CC Sabathia recently spoke on his podcast about the Yankees needing more hitters like LeMahieu the way the team needed more hitters like “the other DJ (Derek Jeter” as the former Yankees left-hander put it. The Yankees need more contact hitters who have a B or even C swing when the count isn’t in their favor and can put the ball in play as well as move the runner over from second to third with a ground ball to the right side. The removal of LeMahieu from the Yankees makes the Yankees worse in 2021 than they were in 2020, and in 2020 they weren’t good enough to get out of the division series.
Maybe what should happen will happen and the Yankees re-sign LeMahieu, sign Trevor Bauer and trade for Francisco Lindor. It’s a doable plan, but it’s far-fetched given Steinbrenner already planting the seeds for a lackluster offseason and the idea Yankees’ ownership will be eating bagel bites and Cup Noodles for the foreseeable future because of their 2020 revenue losses. But it’s a plan that would give the Yankees the best rotation and lineup in baseball. Most likely, the Yankees will let LeMahieu leave, re-sign Brett Gardner (again), and go into 2021 with the same lineup minus LeMahieu, and a rotation of
I can’t imagine the 2021 Yankees without LeMahieu. Or rather, I don’t want to imagine the 2021 Yankees without him. The LeMahieu-less Yankees won’t be pretty. A team that has gone from coming within one win of the World Series three years ago with a future to growing annoying, frustrating and at times truly unlikeable along the way will become even more annoying, frustrating and unlikeable without LeMahieu.
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