Here we are finally in 2021, thank goodness, but itâ€™s two full months into baseballâ€™s free agent signing period and the entire small litter of marquee players in this market are still available, DJ LeMahieu included.
All along, front-office people, agents and baseball writers have been claiming itâ€™s a foregone conclusion that the Yankees and LeMahieu eventually will work something out, and they may be proven right.
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Or maybe not.
Even though weâ€™re been hearing forever that LeMahieu wants to return to the Yankees and they desperately want to keep their top and maybe only offseason priority the 2020 MLB batting champ is shopping his extraordinary talents to other clubs.
Will LeMahieu and the Yankees part ways over money even though their two seasons together have been fabulous?
The longer this drags on, youâ€™d think the odds grow for LeMahieu to sign elsewhere.
Hereâ€™s a breakdown of the clubs that either are or could be in the running for LeMahieu:
Need: The Yankees are short one starting middle infielder, and theyâ€™re counting on LeMahieu being back at second base and Gleyber Torres returning to shortstop even though he was better in past seasons at second. If the Yanks lose LeMahieu, theyâ€™ll likely hunt for a shortstop so Torres can play second. Free agent Didi Gregorius would be a strong option for a reunion in that scenario.
Money situation: Itâ€™s believed GM Brian Cashman is under orders from managing partner Hal Steinbrenner to keep next seasonâ€™s payroll under the $210 million luxury-tax threshold, and thatâ€™s the root of the organizationâ€™s desire to sign LeMahieu for as little as possible so that they can address their other major issue: starting pitching.
The skinny: The Yankees remain a big favorite to re-sign LeMahieu, who seems a good bet to return on a four-year deal that includes a vesting option for 2025. The value of the contract probably will depend on what other offers LeMahieu receives, but it could end up being worth around $100 guaranteed with a lower salary in 2021 to help ownership with luxury-tax concerns.
Odds: 2 to 1.
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LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Need: The 2020 champs are perhaps set everywhere except for third base with incumbent starter Justin Turner on the free-agent market.
Money situation: Money rarely is an issue with the Dodgers, and they seemingly are in a position to be able to pay LeMahieu $22 million or so next season and stay under the luxury-tax threshold.
The skinny: The Dodgers bringing back Turner, a productive fan favorite, appeared very likely until recent reports that the club is â€œdefinitely in the mixâ€ for LeMahieu. Turner, 36, reportedly is seeking a four-year deal, which could be scaring off the Dodgers. LeMahieu to the Dodgers isnâ€™t far-fetched, but it could kill any shot LA has of making a deal with the Colorado Rockies for third baseman Nolan Arenado, whom the club reportedly has been after for years.
Odds: 10 to 1.
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NEW YORK METS
Need: The Mets could play LeMahieu at second base as a replacement for Robinson Cano, who is suspended for the 2021 season, or at third base with Jeff McNeil moving from third to second.
Money situation: No franchise is in better financial shape than the Mets. New billionaire owner Steve Cohen has promised to spend big money and LeMahieu could become a target if the Mets donâ€™t sign at least two of the other very pricy free agents, namely outfielder George Springer and pitcher Trevor Bauer.
The skinny: The Mets are the big wild card in the LeMahieu sweepstakes because they have the money to blow the Yankees out of the water with an offer. Will they? It wouldnâ€™t be surprising if they turned their attention to LeMahieu and stole him for the Yankees. Such a signing could be the start of a New York baseball turf war to the likes weâ€™ve never seen before.
Odds: 10 to 1.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Need: The Blue Jays are looking for a starting third baseman to replace free agent Travis Shaw, who hit .239 with six homers and 17 RBI in 50 games last season.
Money situation: Toronto seemingly is in better shape than most franchises, as it has been sending strong signals that it has the flexibility to take on at least one big contract. The Blue Jays reportedly have an $100 million-plus offer on the table for Springer, who probably will end up in Toronto or with the Mets.
The skinny: If Springer rejects the Blue Jays and signs with the Mets, which is expected, then they might prioritize signing LeMahieu more than they have. There already has been a report that the Jays â€œdesperately wantâ€ LeMahieu, but there also has been a lot of speculation that he wonâ€™t sign with them. The Jaysâ€™ offer to Springer and reported recent five-year offer to Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who instead signed with the Padres, could be signs that theyâ€™re not optimistic about being able to land LeMahieu. For Toronto to pull this off, itâ€™s probably going to have to blow LeMahieu away with an offer that the Yankees wouldnâ€™t match. Six years for $140 million probably would get it done. Would the Jays be that crazy? Doubtful.
Odds: 35 to 1.
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ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Need: St. Louis has a hole to fill at second base because they didnâ€™t pick up Kolten Wongâ€™s $12.5M option for 2021.
Money situation: The Cardinals havenâ€™t been linked to any of the top free agents this season, and itâ€™s probably due to losses from playing a 60-game season in 2020 with no fans in the stands.
The skinny: Never count the Cardinals out. They usually spend like a big-market franchise and just three winters ago they would have taken on most of the $295 million owed to Giancarlo Stanton if he hadnâ€™t vetoed a trade from Miami to St. Louis before being flipped to the Yankees. The Cards also made big splashes in past seasons trading for big-money stars such as Mark McGwire, Scott Rolen and Paul Goldschmidt, among others.
Odds: 100 to 1.
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