by Scott Mandel
DJ LeMahieu continues to be the very best free-agent signing in Major League Baseball, prior to this 2019 season.
With Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two players considered the jewels of the free-agent market before this season, procuring record-breaking, practically-lifetime contracts that are virtually untradeable to another team because of their length and expense, it’s LeMahieu, as low-profile as a player could get, who is quietly leading the New York Yankees.
LeMahieu leads the American League in hitting, leads the Major Leagues in Runners in Scoring Position efficiency, and plays Gold Glove defense at three positions for the New York Yankees. And, his team is dominating the American League in ways they haven’t done so since their last championship season, 10 long years ago.
The two-year, $24 million contract LeMahieu signed with the Yankees is among the best deals Yanks’ G.M., Brian Cashman, has ever negotiated. And, when you compare his current production to that of Machado and Harper, LeMahieu is an absolute bargain, by 2019 standards.
Machado, who signed a 10-year, $300 million contract (repeat that to yourself a few times. I bet the astonishment doesn’t disappear) is hitting .268 along with an on-base pct. of .337 and a slugging pct. of .511. He’s hit 25 homers for the Padres and driven in 68 runs. Nothing to sneeze at, even at his $30 million annual salary.
Harper, 26 years old, procured himself, with the help of baseball’s super agent, Scott Boras, a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies, who are now stuck with him for the length of the contract, which has 12 !/2 years remaining on it. He’s hitting .258, with 17 homers and 70 r.b.i’s. Again, very good production, even if Harper has turned himself into a .250 hitter with an uppercut.
LeMahieu is clearly in the conversation for the Most Valuable Player award in the American League, where he never played previously. A career-long National Leaguer, for this player to come to a new franchise in a new league, facing pitchers he mostly had never seen before, his .338 batting average is astonishing. LeMahieu has 15 homers, 70 r.b.i’s, an on-base pct. of .383 and a slugging pct. of .528.
He’s outhitting those other guys by 70 and 80 points, respectively. He’s making 40% of Harper and Machado’s salaries. All he does is show up every day and quietly impacts the game on both sides of the ball. Suffice to say, the Yankees wouldn’t be leading the American League’s East Division by nine games if he wasn’t on the team.
LeMahieu had another outstanding game, two nights ago, with three hits and a walk. He also showed his defensive versatility with fine plays at both third base and first base, after taking over for Luke Voit, who was hit in the face with a pitch in the fourth inning.
LeMahieu said he’s getting “more and more comfortable” at playing multiple positions.
“He made some special plays at first and a real good play at third,’’ manager Aaron Boone said after the Yankees beat the Rockies 11-5 on Saturday. “Wherever he goes, he plays it like a Gold Glover.”