With the signing of DJ LeMahieu, the New York Yankees are facing some serious decisions regarding the rest of their infield.
New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman needs to try his hand at pitching because in signing DJ LeMahieu, he threw the ultimate curveball. The former batting champion was signed to a two-year, $24 million deal, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Jack Curry of YES added LeMahieu would play second base, third base, and first base in the Bronx.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 11, 2019
The Yankees plan to use LeMahieu as a versatile player around the infield. They will use him at second base, first base and third base.
— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) January 11, 2019
First off, LeMahieu is a great signing for New York. He hit .348 for the Colorado Rockies in 2016 and is a great defensive second baseman. He has a career DRS of 67 at the position along with a respectable 26.5 UZR. Throw in his ability to chip in at other positions, and he’s probably going to be the Neil Walker of 2019. You know, someone who technically has one job but winds up doing more, like Groundskeeper Willie.
Except, the Yankees have a problem. Adding LeMahieu means they have way too many infielders on the roster, particularly when it comes to setting the opening day lineup. Someone’s going to get cut by Opening Day, but who? Also, does this mean the Yankees are officially out on Manny Machado?
It’s a tough question, so let’s answer it by going through the New York infield and determining who has to go!
Out of all the players we’ll cover in this piece, Gleyber Torres is the one who can probably be deemed the safest. The 22-year-old exceeded all expectations as the Yankees’ second baseman in 2018, batting .271 with 24 home runs and 77 RBI.
Now, a lot of the Yankees’ decision on this matter depends on if they sign Machado, but it’s really looking unlikely at this point. Moreover, even if Machado does put on the pinstripes, he isn’t going to threaten Torres for playing time. The Venezuelan sensation is just too good.
Thus, barring a major sophomore slump, don’t count on DJ LeMahieu’s arrival signaling the end of Gleyber Day.
Under normal circumstances, adding LeMahieu would mean Didi Gregorius too was safe. The two don’t share a position, so signing one guy wouldn’t mean the other was being moved. But the offseason is a cruel mistress and now, thanks to Tommy John surgery, New York is expected to be without Gregorius until the summer.
With LeMahieu now in the mix, this probably means Torres will slide over to shortstop while LeMahieu handles second base. This is fine and dandy since Torres is a natural shortstop, but what if he and LeMahieu both rake? That could potentially put Gregorius’ return in jeopardy.
In such a case, Cashman has to sell high on LeMahieu because Gregorius’ intangibles are just too valuable. He’s the hype man in the locker room, a la Nick Swisher in 2009. His postgame victory tweets are legendary. Oh, and he also posted a 4+ WAR each of the last two seasons, and also slugged a career-high 27 home runs.
Gregorius, much like the man following him in this piece, is someone who probably won’t move unless Machado is brought aboard, and even then his odds of staying could be good. One way or another, he’s probably safe in his contract year.
Miguel Andujar has probably had an offseason more stressful than having Michael Scott as a boss. So much uncertainty and unpredictability! Is he getting traded? Will he stay on? Is he changing positions?
I think I can confidently say Andujar’s future in the Bronx rests entirely on if the Yankees sign Machado. Sure, he hit .297 with 76 total extra-base hits but was also the worst defensive third baseman in baseball. Machado, contrastingly, is an elite hot corner defender. Still, with DJ LeMahieu now aboard, it sounds like Andujar can put any anxieties about being traded to rest. Yes, his defense is an issue, but LeMahieu can just switch over to third late in games. After all, that strategy worked late in the season with Adeiny Hechavarria, so LeMahieu should be no exception.
Thus, count on Andujar picking up right where he left off in 2018, and hopefully with improved defense.
Oh, how the Yankees needed Luke Voit late in the season. Between Greg Bird’s struggles and Neil Walker’s streaky bat, he brought some highly necessary stability to first base. Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline, Voit hit .333 with 14 homers and 33 across 148 plate appearances in pinstripes. The man was no slouch with the bat and thus put himself into competition for the starting first baseman’s job this year.
There’s just one problem. All of Voit’s great work as a Yankee came in the last month of the season. Ten of his home runs were in September alone, as were 22 of his RBI. I even wrote how he had every chance of being the next Shane Spencer as he did the next great Yankees first baseman.
Bird and Voit will battle for first base in the spring but with LeMahieu now in the mix, Voit’s roster spot is all but guaranteed for 2019.
Poor Greg Bird. So much potential, but so much time on the disabled list. The big lefty had 11 homers with 38 RBI for the Yankees in 2018, but also missed two months with ankle surgery. This marked the second year in a row he missed extensive time with an injury, but Bird at least started to look like his old self as the 2018 season and postseason wound down.
2019 was a different story. Bird had flashes of good play, but was so inconsistent and unreliable towards the end, he lost his lineup spot to Voit and was left off the postseason roster. Now, he has to reclaim in Spring Training what was once a concrete role on the Yankees. The worst part is for all his 2018 struggles, Bird really just ran into bad luck. His hitting metrics, per Fangraphs, tell that story.
I too think it’s too early to give up on Bird, but make no mistake. Adding DJ LeMahieu reinforces how much his job is on the line come spring, and maybe his spot on the 25-man roster as well.
From a money standpoint, adding Tulowitzki makes perfect sense. The Toronto Blue Jays released him and are covering remaining monies owed, so New York is only paying him the league minimum, or $555,000. Tulo also gives New York an easy fix at shortstop until Gregorius returns, and will probably play other positions so he can still help the team at that point.
Except, DJ LeMahieu complicates things now that he’s on the team. Keep in mind, Tulowitzki missed 2018 with bone spurs in both heels, which have since been fixed with surgery. Like Bird, he too is a walking disabled list. For all of his talent, can the Yankees trust him to stay healthy?
Also, we covered earlier how LeMahieu is a great defensive second baseman and Torres a natural shortstop. Yes, Torres’ -7.7 UZR at second last year was probably more from inexperience than ability, but the Yankees are analytically-minded. If Tulowitzki struggles in Spring Training, New York would be better suited moving Torres to short and LeMahieu to second while Gregorius is out.
One thing is certain. If there’s anyone who absolutely must have a great spring camp for the Yankees, it’s Troy Tulowitzki.
Verdict: Ta-ta, Tulo!
There was a time when Troy Tulowitzki was a great player and could be trusted to play great shortstop. Injuries aside, the results spoke for themselves.
That is exactly why if the Yankees are in a position where an infielder has to be cut, Tulowitzki should be the guy. Yes, he was signed on the cheap, but he’s also 34 and has had several injuries. The Yankees are already a fine balance of youth and veterans. They don’t need Tulowitzki there to be their Jake Taylor.
Not only that, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Yankees signed Tulowitzki because Cashman felt DJ LeMahieu wouldn’t accept his offer. Well, he did, and here we are today.
The sad truth is even if Greg Bird has the worst spring out of everyone we’ve discussed here, he still has value as a lefty bat off the bench.
Tulowitzki, on the other hand, is aging veteran depth, and the Yankees won’t need him with the younger DJ LeMahieu aboard.