The Case to Let DJ LeMahieu Walk (and Trade for Lindor):
It seems to be a universal thought around the hivemind of the Yankees fanbase that the most important move for the organization is to re-sign DJ LeMahieu. Today, Ethan Semendinger provides a different idea about how to better this team now and in the future, in what is surely to be a controversial post.
The Easy Answer Isn’t Always the Right Answer:
I want to preface all my points with this: I was clamoring for DJ LeMahieu to be a New York Yankee as far back as 2014. Unfortunately, I wasn’t writing for any baseball blogs to voice this opinion at the time. The Yankees had started Brian Roberts and DJ was coming off a Gold Glove with similar offensive numbers. It made sense, even before his stand-out 2016 season.
Many Yankees fans were not happy with his signing in 2018, but I kept an optimistic tone when I published the breaking news. We all figured DJ was brought in to shore up the infield defensively and nobody could’ve predicted what he was able to do offensively with the Yankees.
We all know the stat-lines. He was 4th in the AL MVP last year after hitting .327/.375/.518 with great defense while playing all around the infield. Then, he did even better (in a shorter stint) in 2020 with a .364/.421/.590 triple slash, which may ultimately win him the AL MVP.
However, as much as I like DJ, I am going to argue why he isn’t the player for the future of this team:
Age is Just a Number:
And in baseball, age may be the most important number of all. Remember, this is a player who when coming to the Yankees two years ago people were expecting him to flop due to the “Coors Effect”. Ultimately, he did flourish with the Yankees, but this is to not consider many important things.
Moving from Coors Field to Yankee Stadium isn’t moving away from a hitters park.
DJ LeMahieu has become notable for taking advantage of the short porch in right field over the past two years, which has greatly increased his Home Run totals and overall numbers. From 2010-2016, Yankee Stadium II ranked 4th across all baseball stadiums for favorability towards a hitter. It has always been historically a hitters park, and even in LeMahieu’s numbers this shows:
In 2019, at home DJ slashed .338/.392/.585 (0.977 OPS). On the road, DJ slashed .318/.359/.459 (0.818 OPS).
In 2020, at home DJ slashed .423/.481/.784 (1.265 OPS). On the road, DJ slashed .306/.361/.398 (0.759 OPS).
That’s a massive difference in both seasons. He has been an MVP-level talent at home, and a high all-star while on the road. Now, a high all-star level talent is great, don’t get me wrong. But, there are better options.
2. Many players in MLB History have been able to put together two seasons at or near-MVP level
Now, I don’t know whether or not this may have been the best season DJ LeMahieu will have to offer in the MLB, but it is extremely likely he doesn’t maintain a 1.011 OPS. (Which was 0.100 better than his previous best in 2016.) It also shouldn’t be out of the realm of logic to consider that many players in the MLB have been able to put together MVP (or MVP-level) seasons for a few years before regressing back to the mean.
I won’t consider DJ to be the next Zoilo Versalles (who won the 1965 AL MVP), but his career could likely following a similar arc to Dustin Pedroia. While Pedroia was in his early-20 when he won the2008 MVP he was consistently been a good offensive and defense player after. The epitome of an All-Star. I think this is what a team signing him should expect for the first 3 years of his 4/5 year deal.
3. He is on the Wrong Side of 30
J.C. Bradbury published a study back in 2010 that extended the traditional way of thinking that the age 27 was a player’s peak. He found that it is much closer to a players age 29 season, and a traditional 5 year peak would go from ages 27-31 (or a 7-year peak would be 26-32).DJ LeMahieu is going to be entering his age 32 season.
In the short-term, with a team that is 100% ready to make a push at the World Series, it’s likely not a bad move to get DJ at 4/$80M (or even 5/$100, which is possible). DJ is a great top of the line-up bat, offers good defense around the infield, and seems to be a pretty well liked teammate. However, the Yankees have the ability to do something much better:
Francisco Lindor Is the Yankees Shortstop of the Future:
I think there are three major considerations the Yankees have to make this offseason: address the starting pitching, shore up the defense, and acquire long-term pieces.
There is a way to do two of those things in one deal through trading for Francisco Lindor. I’m not the first to think of trading for him, but going all-in on him over LeMahieu makes all the sense in the world.
He’s a switch-hitting bat that can slot into the top spot in the lineup. The Yankees are overly heavy with right-handed hitting and Lindor would be a step towards balancing that out. While DJ is a great hitter, he only adds to the constant stream of righties.
He is a great defensive shortstop which would allow Gleyber Torres to move back to second base, a position he has been much better at. With DJ on the team, that 2B spot in the infield isn’t there as I cannot see him signing a deal to be shunted around the infield.
The cost for Lindor would likely not be as bad as otherwise thought, both in terms of prospects and on his contract.
So, how would the Yankees be able to pull this off? I have two thoughts:
The Expected Salary for Francisco Lindor:
The Cleveland Indians are not going to want to pay the $21,500,000 that is likely going to be going to Lindor in his final year of arbitration. And DJ LeMahieu is looking to get a deal on the open-market that would end up being around $20,000,000. For an extra $1.5 Million on a deal that is (relatively speaking) not too much more to pay for a more prime and more important position player. However, the prospect capital lost to acquire him would negate this small advantage.
This would also mean the Yankees would have to offer him an extension if they were able to trade for him to make the most of the deal. I would like to guess that he would command a 9 Year/$253.5 Million extension including his 2020 arbitration figure (making it a 10/$275M deal). This is based upon the deals given recently to players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Mookie Betts. He hasn’t won an MVP (unlike Harper and Betts), and is going to sign this starting at age 27 (a year older than Harper and Machado). He gets close to the $300M barrier, but given his entering into free agency without this contract would put him in contention with two other notable shortstops in Carlos Correa and Corey Seager may negatively affect his ability to cash out.
To me, an extra $7.5 Million a year is worth it for a player who you’re going to get 6 of their 7 prime years (as opposed to 1). But, again, how do you trade for him?
The Two Trades for Francisco Lindor:
The Cleveland Indians are a team that needs pieces. When Mookie Betts was traded to the Dodgers, the Red Sox were able to ship off a bad contract in David Price, receive an All-Star level outfielder (Alex Verdugo), a Top-50 Prospect (Jeter Downs), and another piece. Again, I don’t think Lindor commands the same power as Mookie Betts, who was a gold glove, silver slugger, and recent MVP candidate at his position.
In order to match a similar trade to the Dodgers had to do, the Yankees could offer a package based around:
Clint Frazier, Clarke Schmidt, Thairo Estrada, and a throw-in prospect like Brandon Lockridge.
This helps the Indians improve upon a great strength with their starting rotation, while the Yankees trade away a Top-100 prospect in Clarke Schmidt. This trade also helps the Indians improve upon a great weakness with their outfield, while the Yankees trade away a potential All-Star (Clint Frazier) who they seem to distrust (always). In addition, there is a stop-gap former prospect and potentially good shortstop in Estrada and a lottery piece in Lockridge for center field – all of this, and the Indians get to avoid paying big bucks to a costly player.
However, there is another thought, which is a certifiably crazy trade, but in a way, completely understandable. Think about this:
Clint Frazier and Gary Sanchez (and maybe a sweetener lottery prospect like Albert Abreu)
The Indians still get their outfield help, but instead of getting another starter for their already full rotation, they get to buy-low on somebody who is a Top-5 catcher in the league. It’s going to hurt when Gary Sanchez ultimately turns it around with another team, but, it’s become evidently clear that fans are falling into the sunk cost paradox with him. His Yankee tenure has been warn thin and I believe both he and the fans would do better apart. It’s also not like the Indians have a great catcher, as Roberto Perez hit to a 33 OPS+ in 2020 and Gary Sanchez would be affordable on their budget.
I urge you to really try and think it through without any bias towards or against Gary Sanchez. If you can, it’s clear that this would serve as a major upgrade for the Indians (and Yankees).
So…What’s the Long Story, Short?
Essentially, this article can be broken down into these simple bullet-points:
DJ LeMahieu, while a great player, is going to cost a considerable amount while a team pays for his declining years. I have loved watching him, but the Yankees need to learn to cut bait and allow his probably cost of $20M to be considered when they…
Trade for Francisco Lindor, who will cost around $21.5M in 2021 and who they could probably get on a pretty nice extension (I’d say 9/$253.5 to make a total 10/$275 deal). The extra money to Lindor over DJ would be paying for prime years at a key position.
Lindor allows the Yankees to completely revamp the roster. It gives the line-up another lefty bat (against RHP) or maintains a dominance over LHP with Lindor being a switch hitter. It moves Gleyber Torres back to a better position (2B) for his offense and defense and would allow the Yankees to move on from a player they refuse to trust in Clint Frazier.
It also potentially allows them to move on from Gary Sanchez if you want to be as nutty as I am.