This is the wrong year.
Re-signing the reigning American League batting champ at a fair-market price is not a sure thing, either.
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Due to COVID, baseball shortened its season to 60 games with no fans, revenues are way down and the Yankees’ 2021 payroll could be affected.
“We’ll see,” Steinbrenner said last Tuesday during an ESPN Radio interview, “We sustained significant losses this year, more so than any other team in baseball. It’s been a crazy year, but we’re just going to have to see what we really feel we need and what that’s going to cost, and we’ll go from there.”
Money will be a big issue with LeMahieu, who played the last two seasons on a two-year, $24-million contract that turned out to be a bargainl. Even with COVID, his next deal could surpass the four-year, $92-million contract that third baseman Josh Donaldson received from the Minnesota Twins last January. Donaldson signed a month after turning 34. LeMahieu turns 33 next July.
Besides money, this decision could come down to the Yankees deciding whether they want to move shortstop Gleyber Torres back to second base. That was Torres’ position as a rookie in 2018 and for part of 2019 when Didi Gregorius was playing short and LeMahieu, a three-time Gold Glove second baseman, rotated between first, second and third in a super utility role.
Torres is a 23-year-old star who had a 38-homer season in 2019, but his shortstop play has been alarming. He has a .969 fielding percentage playing 174 games at second base from 2018-19 compared to .949 in 138 games at short from 2019-20.
The Yanks sticking with an error-prone player at the most important defensive position may not be in their best interest, but moving Torres to second creates two other problems. Who plays shortstop? Do they re-sign LeMahieu, who will expensive, to move around again when the Yanks already have stars at his spots in first baseman Luke Voit, third baseman Gio Urshela and Torres?
The Yanks need to figure out what they want to do soon because LeMahieu can file for free agency after the World Series ends.
Here are Yankees options if they decide not to keep both LeMahieu and Torres:
RE-SIGN LEMAHIEU, KEEP TORRES AT SHORT
This is the cleanest way to go about things, although it requires the Yanks being comfortable with Torres at short and ponying up for LeMahieu.
The Yanks stuck with catcher Gary Sanchez longer, so Torres remaining at short for another season seems the most likely scenario.
But the Yanks do have a decision to make.
“I think he’s capable of better defense,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Wednesday during his season wrap interview. “We will again game plan, discuss with all parties involved, and if we feel something is a better way to go, then obviously we’ll discuss that.”
RE-SIGN LEMAHIEU, MOVE TORRES TO SECOND
This is how the Yanks began the 2019 season when Troy Tulowitzki was at short with Gregorius recovering from Tommy John surgery, Torres started out at second and LeMahieu sat the bench on Opening Day.
Although LeMahieu did end up moving around a lot, he started 142 games, went to the All-Star Game, was second in the AL batting race and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting.
Come 2021, if the Yanks want Torres at second base, LeMahieu probably won’t be back as a $23 million player who doesn’t have a regular position. Thus, the Yanks would have open up a position for LeMahieu and find a shortstop.
At short, the Yanks could plug in Tyler Wade, a good defender who has a career .190 average in 306 at-bats since 2017 as a reserve infielder, or add through a trade or free agency. Two scouts told NJ Advance Media that re-signing Gregorius is the best option.
As for finding a spot for LeMahieu if Torres is at second, ESPN baseball analyst Mark Teixeira suggested trading Voit to free up first base on Kay’s ESPN Radio show. A scout told us the same thing.
KEEP TORRES, LET LEMAHIEU WALK
Fans will be furious at Steinbrenner and Cashman if LeMahieu isn’t back, but his price tag could lead to Gregorius returning to play short, or perhaps the Yanks going cheap and giving the starting job to Wade.
Despite Wade’s lack of offense, the Yankees could decide that the tradeoff for reliable defense (at a low cost) would be worthwhile. Also, the Yanks might be OK with having a speedster who hits for a low average batting ninth in a stacked lineup that has great hitters and sluggers everywhere else.
RE-SIGN LEMAHIEU, TRADE TORRES
As farfetched as it seems just entertaining a Torres trade, the Yankees could get a huge return.
Would they consider packaging Torres, pitcher Michael King and reliever Jonathan Holder to the Indians for star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who is a year away from free agency, plus stud reliever James Karinchak and one of the Tribes’ two touted shortstop prospects, Tyler Freeman or Gabriel Arias?
A trade something like that would make the Yankees a much better team on paper for 2021 and their lineup would be more balanced – Lindor is a switch-hitter – but Steinbrenner surely would veto a deal that would have about $50 million of the 2021 payroll going to the starting middle infield.
Of course, there probably would be a lot of other cheaper offers coming Cashman’s way if Torres is dangled. Here’s something more realistic:
Miami Marlins owner Derek Jeter sees Torres as a young version of himself and builds a package around 24-year-old ace Sandy Alcantara.
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