I, like many other Yankee fans, sat around on Aug. 31 praying for something to happen before the 4pm trade deadline. I was most anxious to see if the Yankees would land Mike Clevenger, a top 10 pitcher with two years of control after this season. But they didn’t (check out Nick Kirby’s article on the topic below).
Now that the trade deadline came and went it’s time to start thinking about the next move, and in my opinion, the next big move the Yankees need to make is locking up DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees’ most productive hitter.
A look at DJ
DJ wasn’t brought to the Bronx to be a superstar, he wasn’t even in the opening day lineup when he got here in 2019, but after a few injuries things quickly changed and Yankee fans saw the extreme value of LeMahieu.
Not only can he play multiple positions at an elite level, the guy can rake. In the 145 games LeMahieu played in 2019 he hit .327 with a career high of 26 homers and 102 RBIs. This year, DJ had been just as productive as before. In just 24 games, LeMahieu has a .402 batting average and a 1.031 OPS. As of right now, he has a 130 wRC+, coming in about 30% higher than the league average. His success isn’t limited to his time with the Yankees either; he isn’t a Luke Voit or Gio Urshela who both came to New York after multiple teams had given up on them. He’s always been successful. He’s been to three all-star games, won three gold gloves, has one sliver slugger, won the Wilson Defensive player of the year three times and captured an NL batting title.
To sum it all up:
DJ LeMahieu is an amazing baseball player. That’s all I have to say.
DJ is in his final year of a two-year, $24 million dollar contract with the Yankees which makes him the sixth highest paid second baseman in the league, averaging $12 million a year. At this point, I think Yankee fans would hand DJ a blank check and call it a day, but let’s look deeper into the Yankees’ situation and what they could potentially afford.
We have to remember that the Yankees still need some depth in their starting rotation which is something I’m sure Brian Cashman will look into during the off-season. They also have some big names coming into free agency within the next five years: Gleyber, Judge and Gary will all be looking for their first big contracts and they have a never-ending Stanton contact they will be paying for more years than anyone is happy to admit.
The Yankees certainly don’t have unlimited money to offer DJ, but they are going to need to take a big step up from $12 million because DJ has continued to produce in a way that skyrockets his value.
DJ will be 32 when he hits free agency, so the years on his contract might be up for more discussion than his money. We might end up right back where we were with Cano, offering him the money but not the years he needs. I don’t think this is a reality for DJ, though; it seems that he is more than happy in the Bronx. In an interview in early February, he admitted contract talks hadn’t started but made it very clear to everyone that his love for New York is strong.
When asked about any talk of a contract extension with the Yankees, DJ LeMahieu said there haven't been any discussions with the team, but that he loves playing in New York. https://t.co/tXwSAe6XHA
When we look around the league, there is little to compare DJ LeMahieu to right now. He brings fielding and hitting to the table in a way that not many others can. First, we can look at the two highest paid second basemen in the league. Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano make $29 million and $24 million a year respectively. Both were slightly younger than DJ when signing their big contracts but they got a good amount of years, seven and 10 to be exact. I don’t think an offer over five years works for LeMahieu especially because of the big future contracts looming in the distance for the team, but I do think he gets an Average Annual Value of around $17-$18 million.
Players like Mike Moustakas are a great insight to a potential contract as well. Almost exactly the same age as DJ, Moustakas signed a four year, $64 million deal with the Reds including an option. The $16 million a year contract is almost exactly what I was thinking for DJ. Moustakas is consistent and reliable and has a career batting average of .251, lower than DJ. He has been an all-star three times but hasn’t shown the depth and flexibility LeMahieu has over his career.
What the contract should look like
Factoring in stats, emotion, and comparable contracts here’s what I’m thinking:
Four years $70 million with a fifth year mutual option for around $17.5 million.
$17.5 million a year for LeMahieu makes him the third highest paid second baseman, jumping ahead of Dustin Pedroia, Dee Gordon, and Jean Segura and gives him a $5.5 million well earned raise.
The mutual option for LeMahieu benefits both parties. In the four years, DJ is making 40% more than he made the first two years with the Yankees. The number seems big, but remember we signed LeMahieu as a fifth infielder and now he’s the team MVP. The fifth year option gives LeMahieu security, and saves the Yankees about $10 million over the four years giving them some wiggle room for their young stars in free agency in 2022.
A contract like this guarantees DJ spends the rest of his prime years in the Bronx and gets the team one step closer to a World Series.
Hopefully, we will be watching David John make long gone for a long time to come.