DJ LeMahieu does not accept $18.9 million qualifying offer from Yankees, becomes free agent

Kristie Ackert, New York Daily News

As expected, DJ LeMahieu did not accept the qualifying offer from the Yankees worth $18.9 million for the 2021 season. The infielder had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to take the contract, but now becomes a free agent. The Yankees will get compensation in the form of a draft pick if LeMahieu signs with another team.

So, what now for LeMahieu and the Yankees?

The Bombers are obviously not out of the running to land LeMahieu again. Arguably their most valuable player the last two seasons, LeMahieu agreed he had his two best seasons with the Yankees and has consistently said he would like to be back. The Yankees can re-sign LeMahieu, but it will come at a much higher price than when they signed him to a two-year $24 million deal before the 2019 season.

LeMahieu not only made himself invaluable to the Yankees and a quiet leader in the clubhouse, but he has raised his profile high enough that there will be plenty of suitors to try to woo him away from the Bronx.

He is coming off his second batting title in the past four years — albeit this time in a coronavirus pandemic-shortened 60-game season. In 50 games this year, LeMahieu led the majors with a career-high batting average of .364. He also won the National League title while with the Rockies in 2016, hitting .348. According to Elias, he is the second player in Major League history to win the batting title in both leagues and the only oen in the modern era. He was the fourth Yankee to ever lead the majors in batting average, joining the likes of Mickey Mantle in 1956, Joe DiMaggio in 1939 and Lou Gehrig in 1934.

Earlier this week, he won the Silver Slugger award and the New York Player of the Year from the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and Thursday night, he is one of three finalists for the American League MVP.

But even without the history and hardware, and despite the fact that he will turn 33 in April of next season, LeMahieu’s performance was solid enough that he will get a contract that is better than the $18.9 million for one year.

In 195 games as a Yankee, LeMahieu has hit .336/.386/.536. With 43 doubles, four triples and 36 home runs — ironically he had just 40 in seven years with the Rockies. He scored 150 runs in 195 games and drove in 129.

“I can see three or four years, likely at $20 million,” one rival American League executive said. “He will be one of the guys the owners will sign despite the losses last season.”

The Yankees love LeMahieu. They love his work ethic and professionalism. They love that he is an old-school baseball player who understands the new approaches to the game. They love that his grittiness rubs off in the clubhouse.

But, they will have competition for LeMahieu.

Three other teams that reportedly could be ready to compete to sweep LeMahieu away include the Blue Jays, the Nationals and the Red Sox. There are even some rumblings that the Mets, flexing their new financial muscle under billionaire owner Steve Cohen, could jump into the ring.

So, where would that leave the Yankees?

Well, as much as the Bombers would like LeMahieu back in their lineup for 2021, they have options for filling the hole at second base. They could probably best address it by admitting Gleyber Torres is not their shortstop of the future and moving him back to second base. The Yankees are already kicking the tires on those possibilities.

Cleveland has made it well-known that they are looking to deal Francisco Lindor this winter and the Yankees have shown some interest. He would be a one-year rental unless the Yankees could agree on a long-term extension. Lindor is part of a stellar class of shortstop free agents after the 2021 season that includes Javier Baez, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. The Yankees could move Torres to second base in 2021, sign a veteran spot-holder for next season, and spend on one of those excellent shortstops when there is more post-pandemic certainly about the business of baseball next winter.

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