D.J. LeMahieu has the talent to do a lot of things for the Yankees in 2019, but providing the organization insurance at third base might be his biggest job.
A solid defensive start to Spring Training has caused lots of Yankees fans to relax their previous worries about Miguel Andujar’s glove. Aaron Boone and the team’s front office has a much longer memory than most fans, but the presence of D.J. LeMahieu in pinstripes is serving as their insurance policy at the hot corner.
Much has been written about LeMahieu serving as the team’s backup first baseman heading into the regular season, but it’s worth noting that he’s spending a lot of time at third too. In fact, the former Rockies star has spent more time at third than at first in Spring Training games to date.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone has a simple explanation for that playing time split. He claims that third base is a “more technically difficult position” than first. As such, LeMahieu needs more game reps to get comfortable to playing the position.
The simple truth is that the Yankees organization is keenly aware of the need to have a backup plan in case Andujar’s defense goes south. As we mentioned, he’s off to an encouraging start this spring, but no one knows just how he’ll react when the regular season begins in the Bronx. The bright lights of major league competition could cause him to fall back into his bad habits of 2018.
That doesn’t mean the Yankees are going to pull the plug on Andujar quickly, but they must be prepared for that eventuality. That’s one of the reason they paid LeMahieu a $12 million salary this season despite an obvious starting position for him to take over. He’s more than an ordinary backup. Expect LeMahieu to log somewhere around 100 total games for the Yankees in a variety of positions.
Obviously, a guy who can play gold glove defense at second, and adequate defense at first and third is going to have a lot of chances to play for Boone this season. LeMahieu’s propensity to put the ball in play will also be important against elite pitching. The Yankees may re-set their own home run record this season, but they’re more concerned with cutting down their strikeouts.
The Yankees don’t want to call on LeMahieu to play third base too often, but he’s got to be ready in case an emergency arises at the hot corner. It’s Andujar’s position for now, but if he fails to improve defensively, it could be a spot LeMahieu seizes for himself by season’s end. That’s not the outcome the Yankees want, but it’s a safety net they value highly.