With Thanksgiving arriving this week, DJ LeMahieu has a handful of reasons to be very thankful.
After testing positive for COVID-19 before spring training 2.0 opened in early July, the Yankees’ most complete player rebounded to lead the majors in hitting with a .364 average in 50 games. LeMahieu’s .421 on-base percentage and 1.011 OPS were tops in the American League, and he finished third in the AL MVP voting.
In an industry that lost billions in a 60-game schedule that didn’t have fans in the seats during the regular season, LeMahieu, who will be 33 in July, is in line for one of the few big-money free-agent contracts to be handed out this winter.
Steve Cohen sealed the deal to own the Mets, and suddenly it was believed LeMahieu had options in New York.
Finally, Robinson Cano’s 162-game suspension for the 2021 season due to a failed drug test gave Cohen a little over $20 million more to spend on free agents in a market that includes outfielder George Springer, catcher J.T. Realmuto and right-hander Trevor Bauer.
Yes, it is good to be LeMahieu these days as the baseball calendar crawls past Thanksgiving on the way to Dec. 2, when clubs have to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Because of the loss of revenue — and Hal Steinbrenner said after the season that no other team took a bigger hit than the Yankees — teams are going to non-tender more players than usual. Players not tendered a contract on Dec. 2 are free agents.
LeMahieu, who talked multiple times about how much he liked playing in New York, rejected the Yankees’ $18.9 million qualifying offer. Had he accepted like the Mets’ Marcus Stroman and the Giants’ Kevin Gausman, LeMahieu would have been signed for the 2021 season.
Now, he is looking for a multi-year deal for significantly more than the two-year contract worth $24 million he signed with the Yankees before the 2019 season. Various reports have LeMahieu looking for a five-year deal, but that likely would be a reach for the Yankees who also have to address the starting rotation and possibly shortstop, if they shift Gleyber Torres to second base.
The Blue Jays have been linked to LeMahieu, who would strengthen a young and upcoming team in the AL East.
In addition to being a sensational leadoff hitter, LeMahieu offers infield versatility in that he can play first, second and third base. His return might set in motion Torres’ move from short to second. That could result in the Yankees dealing MLB home run champ Luke Voit (22) and playing LeMahieu at first base. Or if the Yankees still believe Torres is a shortstop they can win with, LeMahieu plays second base and Voit remains in pinstripes. LeMahieu won three NL Gold Gloves with Colorado at second.
In the middle of a world-wide pandemic that has changed every walk of life, there are reasons to be thankful. And LeMahieu has several.