DJ LeMahieu
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Following the best performance of his career, New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu could be in line for a massive payday next winter. 

Thomas Hall

Yes, it may be a little early to start thinking about next winter. Although, the New York Yankees could have a serious issue involving their second baseman after the 2020 season.

If DJ LeMahieu is able to replicate his 2019 performance during this season, he may become too expensive for the Yankees to re-sign.

The 31-year-old is set to enter the free-agent market after the 2020 season. Based on the other players who’ll be available, LeMahieu is expected to be the best quality second baseman out on the open market next offseason.

Currently, Cesar Hernandez, Jonathan Schoop, Tommy La Stella and Jed Lowrie will all be considered as secondary options to LeMahieu through free agency.

LeMahieu is also the only player out of this group who is capable of playing all four infield positions. So, there could be a bidding war for the versatile infielder next winter.

After signing a two-year, $24 million contract with the Yankees last offseason, LeMahieu proved to be a huge bargain during his first season in pinstripes.

Over his 655 plate appearances in 2019, LeMahieu hit 33 doubles, 26 home runs and 102 RBI’s (both career-highs), .349 BABIP (second-best among all second basemen with at least 500 plate appearances), 7.0% walk rate, 13.7% strikeout rate, 136 wRC+ (third-highest), 5.4 fWAR rating (second-best) along with a slashing line of .327/.375/.518/.893 as well.

In addition, the right-handed hitter also produced the fifth-highest HR/FB rate (19.3%), the ninth-best hard-hit rate (40.4%) and the third-highest z-contact rate (91.8%) among all second basemen with at least 500 plate appearances last season.

LeMahieu’s hard-hit rate was also ranked in the 90th percentile while his average exit velocity of 91.7 mph finished in the 92nd percentile.

Based on these metrics, LeMahieu is definitely capable of carrying his impressive offensive results into the 2020 season. Since the Yankees’ second baseman created a lot of hard-hit contact in 2019, he should be able to sustain his production from last season.

If successful in replicating his 2019 performance, LeMahieu will be able to command far more than his current $12-million salary based on just his offensive production. Given his impressive defense throughout the infield, LeMahieu’s versatility is another aspect that’ll make him the most attractive second baseman on the free-agent market next offseason.

Last season, LeMahieu split his 2019 campaign between first, second and third base. However, he’s also capable of serving as an emergency option at shortstop as well.

Among all four infield positions, LeMahieu has been the most productive at second base throughout his nine seasons in the majors. Through his 579.2 innings at second base in 2019, the three-time Gold Glove award winner committed just two errors and recorded a +5 DRS (tied for seventh-most among all second basemen with at least 550 innings), +3 OAA, 4.0 UZR along with a 13.2 UZR/150.

Since LeMahieu was utilized all over the infield last season, he wasn’t able to qualify for the 2019 AL Gold Glove award at second base. Although, the Yankees are planning to use him as their everyday second baseman this season. Meaning, he’ll have a very good chance to become just the fourth infielder in MLB history to win a Gold Glove in both the AL and NL.

If LeMahieu captures his fourth Gold Glove award and earns a 5.0-plus fWAR rating during the 2020 season, it’ll become extremely difficult for the Yankees to bring him back in 2021.

After this season, the Yankees will have nearly $50 million coming off their payroll, but they’ll have James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka set to enter free agency after the 2020 campaign. So, general manager Brian Cashman will have two open spots to fill within his starting rotation along with a vacant position at second base as well.

The Yankees will also have their hands full through arbitration next offseason, as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will be entering their second year of eligibility along with Gleyber Torres becoming eligible for the first time in his career. With all three players expected to earn significant raises this winter, that could further diminish the possibility of an extension with LeMahieu.

Despite these financial concerns, both sides were intrigued about a possible contract extension before the end of last season. Back in September, LeMahieu also expressed his desire to stay in New York, telling Randy Miller of that he’d “absolutely” consider re-signing with the Yankees.

Given his age and recent performance, LeMahieu would likely be seeking a three or four-year deal worth $20 million per season. At that price, LeMahieu would become the third-highest-paid second baseman throughout the major leagues.

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While a $20 million salary may seem a little high, most teams would be willing to pay that price for a 5.0-plus fWAR player who can also be positioned all around the infield.

For Cashman and the Yankees, an AAV of $20 million would likely exceed beyond their ideal price range. Theoretically, the Yankees would probably prefer to offer LeMahieu somewhere around $15 million per season instead.

Since there isn’t a clear and obvious candidate to replace LeMahieu, Cashman may be forced to overpay to bring him back for a third season in the Bronx. However, overpaying for a player’s services has never been an issue for the Yankees.

With their payroll already expected to reach beyond the $210 million luxury tax threshold for the 2021 season, offering an extra $5 million per season to LeMahieu wouldn’t be too much of a concern for Cashman.

Still, opposing teams may continue to bid beyond just $20 million per season for LeMahieu. So, the Yankees will need to decide how far they’re willing to go to extend LeMahieu.