When DJ LeMahieu was signed prior to the 2019 season, he didn’t have a position. As a second baseman, the Yankees certainly weren’t going to displace their current 22 year old All-Star second baseman in order to get DJ reps there, so the plan was more or less “we’ll figure it out”.
Let’s be clear about a few things: First, that wasn’t a good plan – frankly it was a very dumb plan. Many people only think it was sound in hindsight because DJ was a monster over 2019-2020. But the only reason that came to fruition is because Greg Bird and Troy Tulowitzki were ahead of him on the depth chart. In other words, in order for the plan to work, you needed to have colossal failures at two infield positions. (Yet somehow Brian Cashman – the same guy who went with Tulowitzki and Bird ahead of DJ – was hailed as a genius for the DJ signing…)
Yet somewhat oddly, the Yankees will head into the 2022 season with exactly the same plan. Assuming the Yankees acquire a shortstop and assuming DJ is not going to be the everyday first baseman (two very safe assumptions) the plan for DJ is “well, we’ll find reps for him at first, second and third base pretty regularly”.
Problem one: In order for that to work, someone else needs to be a colossal failure. If Gio Urshela, Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit play well – there’s nowhere for DJ to play. Essentially for DJ to contribute, you’re rooting for a massive underperformance or injury with at least one of the other players.
Secondly, even if DJ does get on the field regularly (for whatever reason), he can’t play shortstop and having a utility infielder who can’t play shortstop is just plain dumb.
It leaves the Yankees with two options: One is to carry someone on the roster to be a backup shortstop – and a backup shortstop only – who provides no other value whatsoever to the team (Andrew Velazquez or someone similar). In today’s game of limiting the number of position players on the roster, having a player who rarely gets on the field is a waste of a roster spot and a missed opportunity to add someone who can provide value through other means.
Or two, they can have someone who’s not a shortstop be the backup shortstop (Gleyber? Gio?). I can’t imagine anyone reading this thinks that’s a good idea.
When MLB front offices construct rosters they start off knowing this: Every team needs two centerfielders, two catchers and two shortstops. (Which is why if you can simply field those positions on a Major League level, that in and of itself makes you a valuable player.) Not only do the Yankees not have two shortstops on the roster (like every other team), they haven’t had ONE for over two seasons. This is a constant and monumental failure on the part of the Yankees’ front office that doesn’t get talked about enough.
When DJ was signed to an extension, the overwhelming majority of Yankee fans were ecstatic. I was not and I said so at the time. His contract locked the Yankees in to either having Torres as the shortstop (which anyone with a laptop and eyes could have told you Torres was not a shortstop), or locked them into the current situation – a utility player who can’t play shortstop, which creates several problems.
The best case scenario is that the Yankees acquire a shortstop (who stays healthy) Gio, Gleyber, and Voit stay healthy and play well and you’re stuck wondering what to do with DJ – who’s collecting $15 million that could be used to address other roster problems.
Well played, Mr. Cashman, well played.
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