In a free agent market that features Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, it can be easy to forget that there are other proven, high-profile players available, such as second baseman DJ LeMahieu. But it’s not the first time a premier second baseman has flown under the radar. In fact, LeMahieu’s free agency is eerily similar to Daniel Murphy‘s quiet 2015 free agency.
Murphy was one of the most captivating storylines of the 2015 postseason. Blasting seven home runs in nine National League playoff games, the infielder was the driving force of the New York Mets offense — which helped them advance to the World Series. Sure, he was underwhelming at the plate in the Mets’ five-game series loss to the Kansas City Royals and made a pivotal error in Game 4 of the World Series, but if it wasn’t for Murphy, the Mets may have never won the NL pennant to begin with.
Before his postseason surge, Murphy was arguably the Mets most consistent hitter dating back to 2010. He was a contact hitter, one of the hardest individuals to strikeout in Major League Baseball, and could come up with clutch hits in the late innings. Murphy had pop in his bat, but he was always known for being a steady, line drive hitter. With that said, through the first two months of his free agency, there was very little chatter on teams being interested in the middle infielder.
The biggest reason for the silence in Murphy’s free agency was likely his inconsistent play in the field and the notion that his postseason power surge was a fluke — even though he was still a respectable overall hitter. Murphy ended up signing a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Washington Nationals, and it was the best free agent signing of the offseason.DJ LeMahieu's free agency has mirrored that of Daniel Murphy three years ago: a star second baseman flying under the radar. As @RPStratakos writes, whichever club signs the former batting champ is getting the steal of the offseason.Click To Tweet
Hitting a career-high .347 to go along with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs (both career-highs too), he was the most prominent figure in the Nationals lineup and a crucial part of them winning the National League East crown. The ensuing season, he hit .322 to go along with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs; before getting traded to the Chicago Cubs in August, Murphy hit .300 for the Nationals in 2018.
Isn’t LeMahieu’s situation nearly identical to Murphy’s 2015 free agency?
Last season, LeMahieu was underwhelming at the plate, for his standards. Hitting just .276, he didn’t look, or play, like the All-Star second baseman the Colorado Rockies were accustomed to. For his career, LeMahieu is a .298 hitter, won a batting title in 2016 (ironically, he beat out Murphy by .001), and hit above .300 from 2015-17. Like Murphy, LeMahieu is a contact hitter who is adept at hitting line drives.
Added onto his offensive accolades, LeMahieu is one of the best defensive second basemen in the sport. Last season, he was tied with Jed Lowrie (another free agent) for the best fielding percentage among qualified second basemen (.993) and was second in defensive WAR (2.2) at the position. In the analytical world that is MLB today, how does someone with LeMahieu’s capabilities fall under the radar?
Some feel that LeMahieu playing in Coors Field boosted his offensive numbers. But that’s a factor that mostly plays into someone’s power production rather than their contact. The second baseman is coming off a year in which he hit a career-high 15 home runs, and before 2018, he had just one double-digit home run season which came in 2016 when he finished with 11. The fact that LeMahieu played in such an environment for the bulk of his career does not mean that his production in years past should be undermined. Without him, the Rockies could’ve been in the bottom half of MLB in offense over the last several years.
LeMahieu is one of the best second basemen in the sport and whoever signs him will be getting a franchise player who can lift an offense. Yes, there have been a few teams who reportedly would be interested in signing him. According to MLB.com‘s Jon Paul Morosi, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nationals, and Minnesota Twins have held “preliminary talks” with LeMahieu. But the market for the second baseman is far from robust.
LeMahieu is in his prime and still 30. There are multiple years of high-caliber production left in the tank; he’s simply coming off an uncharacteristic season offensively. Plus, he missed time in 2018 with an oblique injury. Is it more likely that LeMahieu duplicates his 2018 production, or returns to being a .300 hitter?
At times, the best free agent signing of an offseason proves to be the player who was undervalued. Whoever signs LeMahieu is getting one of the best pure hitters in the sport and a complete steal. Just look to Murphy’s free agency three years ago for evidence as to what signing a premier 30-year-old bat can do for a lineup.