Ranking the Chances for Every MLB Team to Land DJ LeMahieu in Free Agency
Last time DJ LeMahieu hit the free-agent market, he was something of an afterthought.
Despite an impressive run with the Colorado Rockies that included a pair of All-Star selections and three Gold Glove awards, questions about his ability to produce away from Coors Field were a limiting factor in his market.
The New York Yankees eventually signed him to a two-year, $24 million contract to serve in a utility role, and that will go down as one of the best free-agent signings in franchise history.
The 32-year-old finished fourth in AL MVP voting in 2019 when he set career highs in home runs (26) and RBI (102) to prop up an injury-plagued lineup and then followed that up by becoming the first player in MLB history to win a batting title in both leagues.
After hitting .364/.421/.590 with 10 doubles, 10 home runs and 27 RBI in 50 games, he is now one of the marquee free agents on the 2020-21 offseason market.
The New York Yankees extended him a qualifying offer and there's still a very good chance he will return to the Bronx in 2021 and beyond, but other teams will be in the market for his services.
With free agency underway, let's take a preliminary look at how all 30 teams stack up as landing spots for LeMahieu this offseason based on their financial flexibility, need on the infield and status as contenders.
Not a Chance
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
At 32 years old, and still in search of his first World Series title, LeMahieu is not going to sign with a team that went 19-41 and could not be further from title contention.
29. Baltimore Orioles
Despite LeMahieu having a .338/.384/.475 line in 21 career games at Camden Yards, the Orioles can also be immediately crossed off the list due to their proximity to contention.
28. Kansas City Royals
With top shortstop prospect Bobby Witt Jr. rising the ranks and incumbent shortstop Adalberto Mondesi looking like a long-term piece who will eventually shift over to second base, splurging on LeMahieu doesn't make much sense for the Royals even if they were willing to spend. Regardless, they're not.
27. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers need a second baseman with one-year stopgap Jonathan Schoop headed for free agency after a productive season. However, after rookie standout Willi Castro struggled at shortstop (-7 DRS, -7.1 UZR/150), the keystone looks like his long-term home. The front office is still at least a few years away from spending big.
26. Arizona Diamondbacks
After a wildly disappointing 2020 season, the D-backs are likely headed for some roster retooling, and the last thing they need is another high-priced veteran on the books after signing Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million deal last winter. Even if they were gearing up to contend, there are more pressing needs than second base where Ketel Marte is entrenched.
Over the Luxury Tax Threshold
24-25. Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros
As a result of him receiving a qualifying offer, the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros would have to pay an extremely steep price to sign LeMahieu beyond just his contract.
Here's the cost, according to MLB.com:
"A team that exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season will lose its second- and fifth-highest selections in the following year's Draft, as well as $1 million from its international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. Teams in this group this offseason: the Astros, Cubs and Yankees."
The Yankees won't have to pay that price since he's their own free agent, but it will likely be a prohibitive factor for the Astros and Cubs.
Both teams have well-stocked infields and a clear need for arms, making a financial splurge more likely on the pitching side of things, so we can comfortably place them near the bottom of these rankings.
Not a Clear Fit
23. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays already have a terrific middle-infield tandem in Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames, and there's more talent on the way with Wander Franco, Xavier Edwards and Vidal Brujan among the team's top prospect. Even if LeMahieu wasn't well out of their price range, he's not a clear fit on the roster.
22. San Diego Padres
With the emergence of Jake Cronenworth at second base, and Eric Hosmer, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado already locked in across the infield, it's hard to see how LeMahieu would fit into San Diego's plans. It might have been a different story if he were a free agent last winter.
21. Chicago White Sox
Top prospect Nick Madrigal hit .340 with a .376 on-base percentage in 109 plate appearances this past season to stake his claim to the second base job. With Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada manning the left side of the infield, there's nowhere for LeMahieu to play. Even the DH role is likely to be filled by Jose Abreu once prospect Andrew Vaughn gets the call to man first base.
20. Colorado Rockies
LeMahieu was a two-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and the 2016 NL batting title winner during his six seasons with the Rockies. However, that past success does not mean a reunion is forthcoming. At some point, the Rockies have to give Brendan Rodgers a chance to live up to the hype at second base, and they also have speedy Garrett Hampson in the mix for playing time.
19. Atlanta Braves
Ozzie Albies is signed through the 2025 season with a pair of club options after that, so second base is occupied for the foreseeable future in Atlanta. They Braves could target LeMahieu as an upgrade at third base, but Austin Riley still has significant upside and there are more pressing needs.
18. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds could stand to make further upgrades to an offense that was thoroughly silenced in the Wild Card Series, but LeMahieu doesn't really fit. Mike Moustakas was signed to a four-year, $64 million deal last winter to play second base and Eugenio Suarez is signed long-term at third base. They need a shortstop.
17. New York Mets
It would be wise not to count the Mets out on anyone this offseason with new owner Steve Cohen giving the club an infusion of cash, but LeMahieu just doesn't fit. Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith will see the playing time at first base, while Jeff McNeil, Robinson Cano, Amed Rosario, Andres Gimenez, Luis Guillorme and J.D. Davis are all vying for time at the other three spots.
16. Texas Rangers
The Rangers have already made it known they plan on cutting payroll this offseason, so while LeMahieu would be a welcome addition to an underperforming infield contingent, it's unlikely his asking price will fit into the team's retooling plans.
15. Oakland Athletics
Second base is a clear area of need for the AL West champions, but a reunion with deadline-addition Tommy La Stella is a far more likely outcome given the tight purse strings in the front office. As it stands, Khris Davis ($16.8 million) is the only player on the roster with a salary north of $10 million.
14. Cleveland Indians
If the Indians are going to trade Francisco Lindor because they can't afford to pay him between $17.5 million and $21.5 million in his final year of arbitration, it's borderline impossible to see how they would be able to justify turning around and signing LeMahieu for a similar amount.
13. St. Louis Cardinals
It's hard to see the logic in declining a reasonable $12.5 million club option on Kolten Wong, only to turn around and sign LeMahieu for more. The Cardinals have always valued versatility, and LeMahieu would also be an option at third base, but the front office has generally shied away from flashy free-agent signings.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers don't need a second baseman with Keston Hiura at the position for the foreseeable future, but they could use help at third base. Veterans Jedd Gyorko and Eric Sogard manned the position in 2020, along with Luis Urias, who fits better up the middle. The Brewers rarely spend big, with a few notable exceptions like Aramis Ramirez (3/$36M) and Matt Garza (4/$50M). Will they make an exception for LeMahieu?
11. Miami Marlins
Will the Marlins ramp up their rebuilding efforts after a surprise postseason berth? Isan Diaz and Jazz Chisholm look like the middle infield of the future, and Brian Anderson is entrenched at third base, but LeMahieu could provide an immediate boost and help bridge the gap to those young guys. There might be more appealing landing spots, but don't rule out the Marlins.
10. Seattle Mariners
Do the Mariners still believe in Shed Long? After a strong debut in 2019, the 25-year-old hit .171 with a 50 OPS+ in 128 plate appearances in 2020 as the team's starting second baseman. This team is getting ready to make a jump with a ton of talent climbing the minor league ranks, and LeMahieu could be a major building block.
9. Minnesota Twins
The Twins have a big bat to replace in the middle of their lineup if Nelson Cruz is not re-signed, and versatile infielders Marwin Gonzalez and Ehire Adrianza are also set to depart, so it's easy to see how LeMahieu fits the Minnesota roster. Will they splurge on another aging veteran after inking Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million contract last offseason?
8. San Francisco Giants
At some point, the Giants are going to become major players on the free-agent market. They have a ton of money coming off the books and an attractive long-term outlook thanks to a deep farm system. Chances are that spending spree won't come until a year or two from now, but they are a team worth keeping an eye on this offseason.
7. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have one of the best young middle infields in baseball with Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette both representing long-term building blocks, but there is a clear void to fill at third base now that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has moved across the diamond. They spent big on Hyun-Jin Ryu to add a veteran presence to their rotation last offseason, and LeMahieu could serve a similar purpose on the offensive side of things.
6. Los Angeles Angels
With Albert Pujols coming off the books after 2021 and Justin Upton a free agent after 2022, the Angels have the financial flexibility to make a splash. Pitching is No. 1 on the shopping list, but that was also true last offseason and it didn't stop them from signing Anthony Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract. David Fletcher could slide to shortstop to replace Andrelton Simmons, and LeMahieu could take over as the everyday second baseman.
5. Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox legend Dustin Pedroia has one year and $12 million left on his contract, and the two sides could come to a mutual understanding that would bring an end to his playing career.
Considering he has played just nine games the past three seasons, including none in 2020, he has not been a part of the team's plans for some time now.
In his place, Jose Peraza, Jonathan Arauz, Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis and Tzu-Wei Lin split time at the position in 2020, and that group produced an MLB-worst .586 OPS.
Jeter Downs is the future at the position after he was acquired in the Mookie Betts blockbuster, and he hit .276/.362/.526 with 24 home runs and 24 steals while reaching Double-A in 2019.
Assuming the Red Sox want a stopgap to give him more time in the minors, LeMahieu would be a huge addition to a team looking to right the ship.
He could then shift over to first base once Downs arrives, though that would potentially block Triston Casas and Bobby Dalbec from playing time.
It's not an obvious fit, but the Red Sox could be motivated by trying to steal a player from the rival Yankees, and there is no question he would make the team better in 2021.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies shifted Jean Segura from shortstop to second base when Didi Gregorius was signed a one-year, $14 million contract last offseason.
It would be as simple as shifting him back to open up a path for LeMahieu to join the roster.
The departure of Jake Arrieta frees up plenty of spending money, and while adding another starter could be a priority, rebuilding the bullpen is at the top of the to-do list. And that could be done without breaking the bank.
Scott Kingery could take over as the starting second baseman, but he's arguably more valuable in his current super-utility role, and there's no clear in-house solution beyond him to address the expected departure of Gregorius.
The Phillies have so much money invested in the current core of players that they have no choice but to continue pushing forward with trying to assemble a World Series contender.
LeMahieu would undoubtedly boost their odds.
3. Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals plummeted back to earth in 2020, finishing fourth in the NL East with a sub-.500 record a year after winning the World Series.
Luis Garcia received a surprise call-up at the age of 20 and ended up seeing the bulk of the playing time at second base, hitting .276 with eight extra-base hits in 139 plate appearances. His .302 on-base percentage and poor defense (-4 DRS, -16.3 UZR/150) are a good indication he could use more time in the minors.
Veteran Starlin Castro is under contract and former top prospect Carter Kieboom has little left to prove in the minors, but LeMahieu could easily plug somewhere into the team's infield picture, whether it's at first base, second base or third base.
The Nationals had interest in LeMahieu last time he hit the open market, and there is plenty of reason to believe they will be involved this time around as well.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Do the Los Angeles Dodgers trust uber-prospect Gavin Lux?
The 22-year-old was expected to be one of the front-runners for NL Rookie of the Year honors after debuting down the stretch in 2019. Instead, he spent the bulk of the season at the team's alternate site.
He ended up hitting .179/.246/.349 with five extra-base hits in 69 plate appearances, and questions remain as to what role he will fill on the 2021 roster.
With Enrique Hernandez potentially gone in free agency, Chris Taylor is the leading in-house candidate to man second base, along with Max Muncy if the team decides to utilize his versatility once again.
Given all the defensive shuffling and platooning that manager Dave Roberts employs, it's not hard to see LeMahieu fitting perfectly into the team's approach.
Aside from potentially re-signing Justin Turner and replacing a few bullpen arms, there's not many glaring items on the World Series champions' to-do list, and splurging on LeMahieu would boost their chances of defending their title.
1. New York Yankees
Other teams are going to be involved in the LeMahieu market, but the New York Yankees are the overwhelming favorites to re-sign their most productive player.
"I want to stay here and I’ve said that a few times," LeMahieu told reporters at the end of the 2020 season.
Amid myriad injuries, LeMahieu has been the one consistent in the New York lineup the past two seasons, and coming off an MVP-caliber season it would be extremely difficult to replace him.
Unless the Yankees are planning a blockbuster trade for Francisco Lindor, there's no reason they should let one of the game's most productive players get away when he's made it clear he wants to return.
There are luxury tax implications to consider, and upgrading the starting rotation still needs to be the top priority if the Yankees want to reach the World Series, but the first move of the winter should be hammering out a new deal for LeMahieu.
Prediction: LeMahieu re-signs with the Yankees on a four-year, $88 million deal.