Re-signing infielder DJ LeMahieu is the New York Yankees’ presumed top offseason priority. On the contrary, it’s January and the two sides haven’t reached a deal. Furthermore, Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown reports that LeMahieu “has become dismayed by the slow-play tactics of the Yankees” and has engaged in contract talks with other teams.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: LeMahieu is an integral piece to the Yankees’ operation. He has been their best player across his two years with them, producing at a Most Valuable Player Award level at the plate and playing multiple positions well (first, second, and third base).
Many teams are restrained from spending top-tier money given the financial impact of the 2020 Major League Baseball season, and the Yankees appear to be no exception. If they can’t retain LeMahieu, where do the Yankees turn? Here are three short-term free agent options for general manager Brian Cashman if his star infielder leaves the Bronx.
Simply put: Wong would fill the position vacated by LeMahieu’s theoretical departure. The lifelong St. Louis Cardinals infielder would be New York’s starting second baseman from the jump.
Wong has been the same player over the course of his eight-year MLB career: a scrappy and consistent infielder. He’s one of the best defensive second basemen of his era. Wong leads MLB second basemen with a 57 DRS dating back to 2014. He fields groundballs in the hole and turns double plays with ease while possessing a keen ability for making sensible decisions on the right side of the infield.
Wong is a contact hitter. A career .261 hitter, he’s adept at putting the ball in play, working the count, and getting on base by means of sheer grit. For optimism’s sake, Wong is a year removed from hitting a career-best .285 and posting a .784 OPS and 59 RBIs. He can hit near the top of Aaron Boone‘s lineup, helping set the table for the likes of Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Luke Voit.
On the other hand, he could hit near the bottom of the Yankees lineup, keeping the line moving before the top of the order gets another crack. Wong is a fundamentally sound, can’t-lose option for any MLB team. His arrival keeps everyone in the Yankees depth chart in place while improving their defense and adding a player with 104 career postseason plate appearances.
How about bringing back an old smile and a considerable threat from the left side? Gregorius is arguably the best shortstop on the open market and a plausible option for the Yankees.
Gregorius, who played with the Yankees from 2015-2019, is one of the most productive shortstops in baseball. Across the last five seasons (2,139 at-bats) he has posted a combined .783 OPS and a 106 OPS+ while blasting 98 home runs. Gregorius has a long, power swing which generates slug and holds a steady glove at shortstop.
Bringing Gregorius back in the fold would likely require moving Torres back to second base, where he played the beginning of his MLB career with the former present. Last season Gregorius bounced back from a limited 2019, where he missed the first half of the season due to an elbow injury. Posting an .827 OPS and totaling 40 RBIs he was a reliable hitter in the Philadelphia Phillies offense. He can be that same player for the Yankees.
Plus, Gregorius has familiarity playing with the bulk of the Yankees infield. Turning double plays with Torres, throwing over to Voit at first, and corralling throws at second from catcher Gary Sanchez is familiar territory for Gregorius. A Big Apple reunion should be a seamless transition for the shortstop.
An alternative idea is the Yankees signing a versatile outfielder and filling second base internally. Pederson would be a crafty signing in executing that gameplan.
Boone could start/rotate young infielders Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade at second. Another option is trying out Miguel Andujar, who has struggled to find a role on the big-league roster since his injury-riddled 2019 season, at the middle infield position. In doing one of the two, Pederson could be the Yankees left fielder. Sure, he hit just .190 last season. At the same time, he’s a year removed from blasting 36 home runs and has extensive experience starting in both left and center field and has dabbled in right.
Versatility is always a plus, especially with the Yankees. In recent memory they’ve seen several everyday players spend lengthy time on the injured list including Torres, Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton. Three of those players are outfielders/designated hitters. In the meantime, Pederson starts in left field and could be the backup first baseman (he has 19 career starts at the corner infield position).
Signing Pederson deepens the most vulnerable aspect of the Yankees depth chart, adds pop to their offense, and allows the organization to assess what it has in the building before committing long term to a middle infielder.