Does DJ LeMahieu take Yankees out of Manny Machado mix?

ByDavid Schoenfield via ESPN logo
Saturday, January 12, 2019

Just like that, we have Brian Dozier to the Nationals, Jed Lowrie to the Mets and DJ LeMahieu to the Yankees, the free-agent second basemen suddenly dropping like fruit flies.

The second-base market was always going to be intriguing given the depth of free agents available at the position, and it was made even more interesting when the Mets traded for Robinson Cano and the A's traded for Jurickson Profar. The Twins jumped on Jonathan Schoop on a one-year deal, the Padres scooped up Ian Kinsler and the Rockies signed Daniel Murphy to a two-year contract to play first base.

That left Dozier, Lowrie and LeMahieu as the remaining targets. Let's look at their deals ...

DJ LeMahieu to Yankees for two years, $24 million

2018 numbers: .276/.321/.428, 15 HR, 3.0 WAR

The big question: Does this take the Yankees out of the running for Manny Machado? We'll get there in a moment.

First of all, LeMahieu is an interesting player. He was once one of the most extreme opposite-field hitters in the majors -- while also hitting a lot of ground balls, basically your anti-launch-angle hitter. He's changed his game somewhat the past couple of years and hit a career-high 15 home runs in 2018 as he pulled the ball more often and hit more fly balls:

After hitting .348 to win the batting title in 2016, however, he hit .310 in 2017 and .276 in 2018. A .276 average in Colorado isn't impressive. That .348 season looks like a stone-cold fluke anyway. Check out his park-adjusted wRC+ (weighted runs created) figures:

2015: 91

2016: 130

2017: 94

2018: 86

We have a below-average hitter with one big season. He's still been a solid player, however, thanks to his defense (he won Gold Gloves in 2014, 2017 and 2018). I wonder how his game will translate to Yankee Stadium. He still hits the ball a lot to right field, which could result in some cheap home runs, but it could also lead to a lot fewer hits, since the outfield area is much smaller than at Coors, meaning there's less room for his line drives to drop in. He also could continue hitting the ball in the air more and hit more home runs -- he's 6-foot-4, so there could be some hidden power to unlock.

Anyway, the Yankees now have LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki in the infield, with Didi Gregorius returning from Tommy John surgery sometime in the summer. Everybody seems to be flipping out about what this means for Tulo. After all, just a week ago, general manager Brian Cashman said the team was committed to Tulo at shortstop until Gregorius returns.

OK, but that means Tulowitzki has to both stay healthy and produce. He didn't play at all in 2018 and wasn't good in 2017, so it's been three years since he's done both. And if Tulo is healthy? Fine, there is a lot of Dodgers-like flexibility here. He'll need days off even if he's playing well, so Torres can play some shortstop along with second base. LeMahieu moves to third base or even plays some first base. Andujar, who by the metrics rated as one of the worst fielders in the game last year, still plays a little third or maybe moves to first and sees time at designated hitter (with Giancarlo Stanton playing more outfield).

Does this mean no room for Machado? It certainly seems to suggest going to New York is less likely, but I wouldn't completely rule out that possibility. Money isn't an issue -- if the Steinbrenners don't want it to be an issue -- and the Yankees could roll out this lineup:

CF Aaron Hicks

RF Aaron Judge

3B Manny Machado

LF Giancarlo Stanton

SS Gleyber Torres

DH Miguel Andujar

C Gary Sanchez

1B Luke Voit/Greg Bird

2B DJ LeMahieu

That leaves Tulowitzki and Brett Gardner on the bench, and you would have to move things around when Gregorius returns, but too many parts is OK, especially when factoring in injuries. If this still feels too crowded, maybe Andujar becomes a first baseman or trade bait.

And if that lineup feels too right-handed? How about Bryce Harper coming to the Bronx instead of Machado?

Jed Lowrie to Mets for two years, $20 million

2018 numbers: .267/.353/.448, 23 HR, 4.8 WAR

The Mets sign a good player and the consensus reaction on Twitter was, "The Mets have too many infielders!" If Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth returned from their graves in prime condition and signed with the Mets, I think Twitter would find a way to complain.

Yes, Lowrie is a former client of new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, but he's also a very good player, coming off his best season at age 34, and $10 million per season will be a bargain even if he's a 2.8-WAR player instead of 4.8. He's a switch-hitter and provides defensive versatility. He's primarily played second base in recent seasons, but played shortstop earlier in his career and can handle third as well. As with the Yankees, it's all about positional flexibility.

As far as having too many infielders, here's a reminder that the Mets gave infield starts last season to Jose Bautista, Luis Guillorme, Phillip Evans, Jack Reinheimer, Ty Kelly and the ghosts of Jose Reyes and Adrian Gonzalez. There's room for depth additions. As an example, here's how the games could line up, keeping in mind that Lowrie also could play second or Cano could play first base:

Cano: 145 games started at 2B

Amed Rosario: 140 GS at SS

Lowrie: 110 GS at 3B, 20 GS at SS

Todd Frazier: 80 GS at 1B, 25 GS at 3B

Peter Alonso: 90 games at 1B/DH

Jeff McNeil: 27 GS at 3B, 17 GS at 2B, 2 GS at SS, 40 GS at OF

Given their ages, Cano (36) and Lowrie would benefit from a few extra days off. McNeil hasn't played much outfield (just 65 innings in the minors), but the Mets say they'll try him out there. If he can handle a corner, he could platoon with Brandon Nimmo (.946 OPS against right-handed pitchers, .742 against left-handers), or Nimmo or Michael Conforto could slide over to center 10 to 15 times a season. Again, there's lots of flexibility, and that's before factoring in injuries.

(Yes, I'm ignoring Dominic Smith. If you're a member of the Dom Smith fan club, I apologize.)

Brian Dozier to Nationals for one year, $9 million

2018 numbers: .215/.305/.391, 21 HR, 1.0 WAR

From 2015 through 2017, Dozier ranked fourth among MLB second basemen in WAR, averaging 35 home runs per season with his pull-happy approach. He fell off last season with the Twins and Dodgers, hitting .215 with 21 home runs. We could attribute that to age -- he was 31 -- but late in the season he revealed he had played through knee soreness since April, after suffering a bone bruise. This feels like a terrific buy-low opportunity for the Nationals. At one year, they have nothing to lose, and if Dozier has a big season he can re-enter the free-agent market as a more a desirable player.

His FanGraphs projection is still a pretty conservative .242/.328/.433 with 22 home runs. I think he'll do better. Even without Harper, the Nats should have an imposing lineup:

SS Trea Turner

RF Adam Eaton

3B Anthony Rendon

LF Juan Soto

2B Brian Dozier

1B Ryan Zimmerman / Matt Adams

C Yan Gomes / Kurt Suzuki

CF Victor Robles / Michael Taylor

And if Harper ends up back in D.C.? Eaton becomes trade bait for prospects or bullpen help.

What's next?

The second-base market still includes Asdrubal Cabrera, who can still hit but probably profiles as more of a backup these days due to his lack of range, and Josh Harrison, who isn't really a first-division starter anymore. The Giants are also looking to deal Joe Panik. The one contending team with a hole at second is the Brewers, who have Hernan Perez, Cory Spangenberg and Tyler Saladino as options. FanGraphs currently rates the Brewers 29th in projected WAR at second base.

Their top prospect is second baseman Keston Hiura, however, and he could be ready by midseason. They also could bring back Mike Moustakas and play Travis Shaw at second, but they probably don't want to block Hiura, and the Yasmani Grandal signing already has pushed their payroll higher than ever.

The Dodgers don't necessarily have a hole at second base -- if they're committed to Alex Verdugo in the outfield, Chris Taylor lines up at second. They also could still sign Harper or A.J. Pollock, and that also could place Taylor at second. If Taylor is needed in the outfield, they weren't afraid to slide Max Muncy over to second. Still, they appear to have an open roster spot. I could see Cabrera landing in L.A.

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