Why Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu is no lock to return next year

Part 15 of a series analyzing the New York Yankees

Regardless if a baseball season is played or not, DJ LeMahieu will have to borrow a line from the Clash regarding his future: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?’’

LeMahieu, 31, will be a free agent whether there are 82 games played or none due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the 2019 season, in which he was an All-Star for the third time and finished fourth in the AL MVP race, LeMahieu spoke about how much he enjoyed being a Yankee. Teammates raved about his ability and makeup. With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton hurt for long stretches of the season, LeMahieu’s bat endeared him to the team’s decision-makers and was a big reason the Yankees won the AL East by seven lengths over the Rays.

So, the player likes it where he is. Teammates love having him. Decision-makers speak glowingly of him. Easy call, right? LeMahieu stays in The Bronx.

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Not so fast.

With an eye on eventual contract extensions for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado and pitcher German Marquez following the 2018 season, the Rockies didn’t want to go more than two years and $24 million for LeMahieu. So, on Dec. 21, 2018, the Rockies inked Daniel Murphy for two years and $24 million. Three weeks later, LeMahieu agreed to a two-year deal for $24 million with the Yankees. In February 2019, Arenado and the Rockies agreed to an eight-year contract for $260 million. Two months later Marquez signed a five-year extension for $43 million.

DJ LeMahieu
DJ LeMahieuN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

It’s a solid bet LeMahieu will do better in his next free agency voyage after hitting .327 and establishing career highs in homers (27) and RBIs (102) in 2019. In addition, LeMahieu played 40 games at first base, 75 at second and 52 at third to provide Aaron Boone with position flexibility. That is something front offices put a lot of emphasis on these days.

LeMahieu turns 32 in July so there will be teams that won’t want to go four or five years. And after hemorrhaging money this year, there will be teams that won’t be able to spend on free agents. If there are no games this year, how will teams view LeMahieu’s 2019 stats when assessing a player who missed a year while putting a 2021 team together? What if the abbreviated season doesn’t produce numbers comparable to last year?

Yet, as we have learned so many times, it only takes one club to make a staggering offer that is impossible for the player to ignore.

On Feb. 19, Post columnist Ken Davidoff suggested a two-year pact for $32 million with a $16 million vesting option for 2023 based on plate appearances.

LeMahieu said that day at George M. Steinbrenner Field the Yankees hadn’t approached him about staying in The Bronx beyond his current deal. He did say he would be open to having a conversation.

“Obviously, I love it here,” said LeMahieu, who was slated to be the everyday second baseman.

He won three Gold Gloves at second with the Rockies. He can hit and defend. But don’t ignore the makeup, which is a big tool in New York.

“He loves to play. His work is really efficient. He doesn’t really overdo anything. He’s real particular with his swings in the course of the day, with what he does before a game to get ready. He’s just got a really solid routine,’’ Boone said. “And there’s just something a little bit different that he brings to the room that I think guys are drawn to. Even though he’s not the most vocal guy, I think guys look up to him and enjoy him.”

That was the case last season and it will be again if there is baseball this year.

Beyond that?

Make the Yankees the favorite, but not a lock.

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