Yankees Were Right to Choose $276M Discount for DJ LeMahieu Over Manny Machado

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2019

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 19: DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees runs to first during the fourth inning of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on May 19, 2019 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Sometimes the big fish gets away. Sometimes that's OK.

So it may be for the New York Yankees and Manny Machado.

For much of the offseason, the Yanks were linked to Machado as the four-time All-Star dipped his toes into the free-agent waters for the first time. 

A 26-year-old generational talent available to the highest bidder? It had Yankees written all over it.

Then, a funny thing happened. 

In January, New York signed veteran infielder DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million contract. It was a modest move by Yankee standards, hardly a blip on the Steinbrenner Richter scale. Yet it seemed to quash any hopes of a Machado splash. 

At the time, Wallace Matthews of the New York Daily News dubbed the decision to sign LeMahieu over Machado "puzzling at best and distressing at worst."

"LeMahieu hardly seems like a prototypical Yankee," he added.

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 26: DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees bats during a game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 26, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7 in ten innings. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Other, less-printable words were surely uttered across the Bronx and the greater Yankees nation.

LeMahieu wasn't a scrub. He won three Gold Gloves and made a pair of All-Star appearances during his eight-year stint with the Colorado Rockies. But the unassuming 30-year-old was no one's idea of a superstar.

Machado eventually signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres. A quick crunch of the numbers reveals a $276 million disparity between his deal and LeMahieu's.

So far, it looks like New York made the right call.

Yes, it's far too early to render a final judgement on either pact, especially Machado's. However, the early returns tell an interesting story.

Through 49 games with New York, LeMahieu is hitting .313 with a .787 OPS. In 54 games with the Friars, Machado is hitting .266 with a .785 OPS.

Lemahieu has 29 RBI to Machado's 27 and a .360 on-base percentage to Machado's .348. By FanGraphs' WAR measure, Machado has only a slight edge over LeMahieu, 1.3 to 1.2.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MAY 26:  DJ LeMahieu #26 of the New York Yankees slides safely into home plate to score and tie the game in the top of the 9th inning of the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 26, 2019 in Kansas City, Mi
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Small-sample caveats still apply. The point isn't that LeMahieu is the superior player, but rather that he was the superior bargain and the right fit for the Yankees.

New York has weathered a raft of injuries to key contributors, especially in the infield.

Third baseman Miguel Andujar was lost for the season to shoulder surgery. Shortstop Didi Gregorius has yet to play an inning while recovering from Tommy John surgery. First baseman Greg Bird is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is nursing a strained calf. 

The team is also missing sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, right-hander Luis Severino and on and on.

LeMahieu can't account for all of those losses. And he isn't the only reason the Yanks entered play Wednesday with a 35-19 record, one game up on the second-place Tampa Bay Rays.

Heap credit on youngsters such as infielder Gleyber Torres, outfielder Clint Frazier and right-hander Domingo German, not to mention catcher Gary Sanchez and the bullpen.

But LeMahieu has capably logged innings at third base, second base and first base. If you believe in "clutch," he's hitting .455 with runners in scoring position.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

"I've always kind of admired his game," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. "One of those pro's pros. Really good defensively. Runs the bases well. Tough out at the plate. He's just a really solid player."

The Padres will pay Machado $32 million annually through his age-35 season. Perhaps he'll be worth it. It's a cost the Yankees could have absorbed. 

Instead, they opted for a shorter-term, less-glitzy expenditure, and it's paying dividends.

"It couldn't be working out any better," LeMahieu said of his burgeoning Bronx tenure, per Newsday's Brian Heyman. "I'm just in a good place."

The Yankees let the big fish get away. But they appear to have reeled in a keeper at a fraction of the cost and are in a good place of their own.

        

All statistics current entering play Wednesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.   

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