The Yankees are in agreement with two-time All-Star infielder DJ LeMahieu on a two-year, $24 million contract, as YES’s Jack Curry first reported on Friday and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal confirmed:
Yankees are closing in on a two-year deal with infielder DJ LeMahieu,— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) January 11, 2019
LeMahieu deal with #Yankees indeed two years, $24M, per source. Pending physical.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 11, 2019
It was been hard to envision the Yankees signing another starting-caliber infielder this offseason, unless it was a transformative guy like Manny Machado who could justifiably displace Troy Tulowitzki and/or Miguel Andujar. But this seems like a case of the Yankees just having money to spend, recognizing that there wasn’t much of a market, and adding to their riches. Per Curry, the Yankees plan to use LeMahieu as a versatile infielder — not necessarily a utility guy, but someone who can move around on a day-to-day basis — much like the Mets plan to do with reigning All-Star second baseman Jed Lowrie, who they signed yesterday:
The Yankees plan to use LeMahieu as a versatile player around the infield. They will use him at second base, first base and third base.— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) January 11, 2019
LeMahieu has 41 games (24 starts) of MLB experience at third base, plus 108 more in the minors, in addition to four games (one start) at first base and another four of reserve action at shortstop. He hasn’t played any position except second base since 2014 — when he played all four infield positions for the Rockies — so it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to the transition.
The 30-year-old infielder led the majors in batting average (.348) in 2016 and has always been a strong contact hitter and on-base guy, possessing a .298/.350/.406 career slash line. He appeared to sacrifice some of that contact-hitting ability in order to generate more power in 2018, though, posting a .276/.321/.428 slash line (good for an 88 OPS+, his worst since 2014), while hitting a career-high 15 home runs.
When he plays second base — which he still could quite a bit in New York if the Yankees are willing to move Gleyber Torres to third and make Miguel Andujar the DH — LeMahieu has proven to be very reliable in the field. He won his second straight Gold Glove and third of his career in 2018, ranking second only to Kolten Wong among major-league second basemen in defensive runs saved (18) while ranking first among qualifiers in UZR/150 (12.5). At least on a part-time basis, LeMahieu will have an opportunity to reunite in the middle infield with Tulowitzki, his longtime Rockies double-play partner.
With LeMahieu gone, the Rockies appear ready for a youth movement at second base. Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon, who saw part-time duty in Colorado last season, will likely compete for the Opening Day start, while top prospect Brendan Rodgers appears to be nearly major-league ready (though he had a disastrous cameo at Triple-A Albuquerque to end last season)and he could force his way into the starting job before too long. If worst comes to worst, it’s also possible that Daniel Murphy could shift over from first base get some time at second.
The Rockies’ decision to let LeMahieu walk continues their common practice of giving opportunities to their prospects when their veterans hit free agency, rather than bringing back those older players at an inflated rate. After Nick Hundley hit free agency two years ago, Colorado handed its catching jobs to prospects Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy (though they’ve since reversed course and brought back old friend Chris Iannetta). They opened up the first base job for McMahon last year by letting Mark Reynolds walk, though that decision actually ended up creating more playing time for David Dahl in the outfield, as McMahon struggled and Ian Desmond ended up getting most of the starts at first base. Though guys like Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon have bucked the norm by taking below-market deals to stay in Colorado, the Rockies clearly are committed to not letting nostalgia influence their baseball decisions too heavily.