Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Making A Case For Playing LeMahieu At First Base

I want to preface this post by saying that I believe DJ LeMahieu should be the Yankees regular second baseman. The guy has won the National League Gold Glove award at that position three times, including the past two years.

Sure, Gleyber Torres was the regular second baseman last season but let's be honest here... he didn't play it too well (-16.7 UZR/150). But in the minors Torres played almost 1600 more innings at shortstop than second base. Hell, Gleyber played more innings at third base in the minors than he did second. So it makes sense that Torres didn't look so good over there last season, as he's not very familiar with the position.

So this is the perfect opportunity to make things right on defense by playing LeMahieu at second and Torres at short. Then you keep Andujar at third base and hope that he can improve his defense there like Adrian Beltre did early in his career (by the way, that didn't happen overnight, so let's temper our expectations a bit).

Of course that means Troy Tulowitski would be on the bench, and although he may be able to handle any position in the infield, the fact of the matter is he's only ever played shortstop in the Majors. So if an injury occurred anywhere but short some changes might need to be made.

Oh, and when Didi returns around June... I really don't know. I guess I'll tackle that question when his return is imminent. Besides, who knows what Aaron Boone will actually do position-wise?

But I got to thinking about another spot where Boone could play LeMahieu.

With Torres having played almost a full season at second base, perhaps they don't want to move him from there. Especially with Didi returning this season, there's a chance Boone and the Yankees would rather not move Torres back and forth, and that makes sense too. It's not like Didi stinks, and the team has shown zero interest in signing him to an extension.

And with Tulowitski apparently being healthy, it makes sense that the Yankees would want to see if he has anything left by playing him regularly to at least start the season. That way he gains value as possible trade bait when Didi returns, or he at least gets enough reps to earn playing time at other positions.

So what about first base? That would make your infield on Opening Day consist of Miguel Andujar at third base, Troy Tulowitski at shortstop, Gleyber Torres at second base, and DJ LeMahieu at first.

Before getting into the handful of other reasons for putting DJ at first base, I want to address the idea that his bat won't play well at first base. Typically a team's first baseman provides a good chunk of offense, namely in the power department, which is something LeMahieu wouldn't do. But let's just remember that, like past teams that had Robinson Cano, the Yankees get more than the average amount of offense out of second base thanks to Gleyber Torres. So I believe that negates the lesser offensive production they would get out of first base.

Besides, it's not like the Yankees have been getting a ton of productivity out of their first basemen recently. Last season their regular first baseman (at least before Luke Voit came aboard), Greg Bird, gave the team an OPS+ of 79. In 2017 the duo of Chris Carter and Greg Bird gave the Yankees OPS+'s of 71 and 84. And in 2016 Mark Teixeira had an OPS+ of just 74. And the Yankees offenses were still pretty productive the past three years. So I think the "doesn't play well at first base" thing can be put to bed.

As for the other reasons why Aaron Boone may want to make LeMahieu the regular first baseman, here you go...
  • While I understand why the Yankees would want to see if Luke Voit is more than a flash in the pan, it may be a good idea to try and trade him while his value is as high as it is. Mind you, other teams may see him as a possible flash in the pan too, so the return wouldn't be substantial. But Luke is still 27 (he'll turn 28 next month), and he's not even free agent eligible until 2025, so I imagine the Yankees would get much more than minor league filler in return. Personally I think it's worth holding onto him, but a case can be made to strike a trade while the iron is hot.
  • DJ LeMahieu has missed very little time since 2014, in which he's averaged 146 games a season. He did just turn 30, and did go on the disabled list three times last season, but DJ would allow Greg Bird the ability to work on things and ease his way back into regular first base duty without the added pressure to perform regularly for the Yankees.
  • LeMahieu is an elite defender at second base, so there's a very good chance he could play well above average defense at first base. That would make it so the team wouldn't have to absorb as much poor defense from Torres at second base or Andujar at third (assuming they don't improve there). That's not to say that Bird is no good on defense, but if Greg doesn't start hitting then there's a good chance Luke Voit would get more starts and he's definitely below average there defensively.
  • Let's start by saying the Yankees do trade Voit. Now let's say Tulowitski fails one way or another, and Greg Bird continues to struggle, both of which are good possibilities. The Yankees could put either LeMahieu or Torres at shortstop, and look at adding another first baseman through trade. You may say that's easier said than done, which is true, but it's a hell of a lot easier than finding a solid middle infielder. Hell, just look at how Brian Cashman found Luke Voit and got him for cheap.
Like I said, I'd rather keep a guy at the same position in which he won the last to Gold Glove awards, and let Luke Voit and Greg Bird split time at first base, but I can't call anyone foolish for thinking DJ LeMahieu would be a good choice for first base. 

Isn't it nice having the problem of too many viable infield options? Now if only the Yankees had that same problem in the outfield. Perhaps if they were to sign, I don't know, Bryce Harper then the outfield situation would be in pretty good shape. But I don't want to go down that road again, do I?