NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu wanted to be in the Bronx. The Yankees wanted the invaluable second baseman back. All that it took was a three-month game of chicken and a six-year commitment that will be worth between $88-90 million to make it happen. According to two industry sources, the 32-year-old LeMahieu and Yankees are finalizing a deal to bring him back through the 2026 season, when he will turn 38.
The Yankees singularly focused on signing LeMahieu this winter, but the question is will that alone be enough to get them back into the contention for a World Series in 2021, because they have limited resources to reshape the rest of their roster.
After his two years tearing up the American League East — proving he could hit outside the hitter-friendly Coors Field — LeMahieu had other suitors, most notably the Blue Jays who had an offer out to the infielder. This also wasn’t a year the Yankees felt they could go out and just gaudily outspend their competition like in past years. After managing partner Hal Steinbrenner claimed the team lost the most money in baseball (believed to be over $200 million) because of the coronavirus-shortened season that did not allow fans into the ballpark, the Yankees were looking for another team-friendly deal that would allow them to stay under the $210 luxury-tax threshold.
The compromise was an extra year, which brings LeMahieu’s Annual Average Value to a payroll-friendly $15 million.
That allows the Yankees a little payroll flexibility, which they had to use Friday as they worked through deals with their arbitration eligible players. An industry source confirmed that Aaron Judge and the Yankees agreed to a $10.17 million deal to avoid arbitration on Friday. The Yankees had nine arbitration-eligible players, including Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Chad Green, Gio Urshela and Clint Frazier.
It also gives the Yankees the room in the payroll they need to try and address their rotation, which behind Gerrit Cole is full of uncertainty. Luis Severino is expected to be out until June or July after 2020 Tommy John surgery and Domingo German is coming off a domestic violence suspension that had him miss all of 2020. The Yankees have done their due diligence on available pitchers, including former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. They had scouts in attendance when the 34-year-old right-hander threw last week.
With the scouting work done, but on hold as they waited for LeMahieu’s decision, sources around the team expect things to move quickly from here on out.
The reunion isn’t much of a surprise. LeMahieu said repeatedly he wanted to be back with the Yankees, who also made it clear they did not want their most valuable player over the last two seasons to walk away.
The business of baseball, however, is never that simple.
On a remarkably team-friendly two-year, $24 million deal, LeMahieu slashed an outstanding .336/.386/.536 with 43 doubles, four triples and 36 home runs — ironically he had just 49 homers in seven years with the Rockies. He scored 150 runs in 195 games and drove in 129. In 2020, he hit .364/.421/.590 in the pandemic-abbreviated 60-game, 2020 season.
LeMahieu was the Yankees' only big free agent target this winter. His teammates like Judge, Voit and Frazier lobbied for his return from the end of the regular season. Manager Aaron Boone made it clear that having LeMahieu in his lineup was a huge reason for their success and it wasn’t just because he is one of the hardest players in baseball to strikeout. Boone and his teammates talked about LeMahieu’s quiet leadership and the work ethic that they all admired. It’s become his calling card among players and even in the front office.
“There’s no bulls--- with him,” said one team source, “He wants to win, he works to win and that is who he is. His teammates love him, the coaches love him, who wouldn’t?”
LeMahieu signed with the Yankees in the winter of 2018 with no real guaranteed spot in the lineup and seeming like an unlikely fit. In two years, he established himself as a leader in the clubhouse and one of the best players in the game on the field.
His .364 batting average was the best in baseball and won him his second career batting title. He is the only man in the modern era to win the batting title in both leagues.©2021 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.