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DJ LeMahieu should not be the New York Yankees offseason priority

DJ LeMahieu: New York Yankees
Oct 8, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) hits a single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning of game four of the 2020 ALDS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

DJ LeMahieu has been one of the best players in MLB for the last two years. Since signing with the New York Yankees signed, the perennial AL MVP candidate has done nothing but crush baseballs. He led the Bombers in fWAR (Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement) in both 2019 and 2020, with 5.4 and 2.5, respectively.

Yankees’ fans surely have “bringing back DJ LeMahieu” very high in the holidays’ wish list. Yet, he is asking for a long-term commitment that the team should avoid. While the 32-year-old second baseman is an elite player, his exorbitant asking price and desire contract length is asking a lot. He would be 37 at the time that hypothetical deal expires.

Brian Cashman must recognize the holes on his roster, the very problems that have caused this team to be a perennial disappointment every October. At a time when MLB revenue is down and payroll flexibility is crucial, the Yankees must be smart.

As we’ll explain, that means letting D.J. LeMahieu walk if it means addressing other needs this offseason.

New York Yankees payroll situation and the impact of re-signing DJ LeMahieu

By the look of the things, the Yankees prefer to remain under a specific payroll ceiling for the 2021 season. That plan obviously implies some restraint when it comes to adding talent via free agency.

In an ideal world, the Yanks would secure LeMahieu’s services in a three or four-year deal and still address the starting rotation and bullpen. But there is no such thing as perfection, and the NY Yankees are looking at an offseason without too much expenditure.

If that’s the case, getting some pitching reinforcements is a must. The offense is great with or without LeMahieu. Of course, he makes it even better, but the unit can still be an elite force in the American League without the reigning batting champion.

The Yankees were fourth in MLB and first in the AL in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) with 116 according to Fangraphs, ahead of the Chicago White Sox, the Houston Astros, the Oakland A’s, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays, and other contenders.

New York Yankees offseason: Prioritize pitching over DJ LeMahieu

On the other hand, the pitching situation in the Bronx needs some help. Take a look at how the team fared in 2020 among starters, per FanGraphs:

  • 12th ERA, with 4.24
  • 10th FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), with 4.19
  • 8th fWAR, with 5.2

New York Yankees’ relievers:

  • 16th ERA, with 4.51
  • 20th FIP, with 4.69
  • 21st fWAR, with 0.7

Those are the areas that the Yankees need to prioritize in 2021. The rotation was in the top half in most important metrics, but that’s not going to cut it. To make matters worse, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, and Masahiro Tanaka all hit free agency.

The unit is decimated: Gerrit Cole is the ace and the Yankees have Jordan Montgomery. But Domingo German didn’t pitch at all in 2020, Deivi Garcia only has 34.1 innings of MLB experience and Luis Severino won’t pitch before June. Meanwhile, Clarke Schmidt, Luis Medina, Luis Gil, and Nick Nelson are still raw.

The bullpen is a mess. The Yankees only have three reliable relievers in Zack Britton, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman. The rest of the unit is filled with question marks; some of them with upside, but wild cards nevertheless.

Yankees should look to free agency or the trade market to bring pitching

There are lots of options to shore up the rotation and bullpen in free agency. Lots of them. The Yankees should prioritize those areas instead of splurging in bringing back LeMahieu if they are looking to cut payroll.

Replacing the valuable LeMahieu won’t be easy, but there are alternatives. The Yankees could entertain trade scenarios for Trevor Story or Francisco Lindor and move Gleyber Torres to second. They could also bring defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons to take over short, or they could sign fellow fielding specialist Kolten Wong to play at the keystone and keep Torres in his original position.

If not re-signing the 32-year-old means the team will address their severe pitching woes, then they should definitely consider going that route. The Yankees’ roster is better with DJ LeMahieu on it, but the organization badly needs to build some quality pitching depth for 2021.