With both the Blue Jays and Yankees interested in DJ LeMahieu, the biggest factor could be their payroll situations, both now and in the future.
There still hasn’t been much movement with MLB free agency, as the vast majority of the top 50 available free agents have yet to find their home for 2021, including pretty much all of the top-tier players.
The Blue Jays have been linked to almost everyone, and there was a slight update with one of them on Sunday. According to Bob Klapisch of NJ Advance Media reports, DJ LeMahieu’s camp is looking for a contract in the neighbourhood of five years and 125 million dollars. This comes on the heels of rumours earlier this offseason that the Yankees had hoped to offer around four years and 75 million for the veteran infielder.
If the latest news is true, that’s a pretty confident position for LeMahieu and his agent to take in light of how this offseason has gone so far. That said, he’s one of the best available players, and they’re welcome to ask for whatever they like. However, there’s a good chance that the 2x Silver Slugger Award winner may have just priced himself out of a return to New York, and could open the door for the Blue Jays.
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How could that happen to the mighty Yankees? Well, they’ve actually shown some financial restraint over the last few years, despite handing Gerrit Cole a record-breaking contract last winter. Their GM Brian Cashman has made some very savvy signings, and they’ve built a solid roster while trying to avoid serious penalties for being over the luxury tax threshold for too many consecutive years. And that’s going to be a delicate dance for Cashman over the next few seasons.
As things stand, spotrac.com has the Yankees pegged for a projected payroll of 209 million and change in 2021, with the threshold set for 210 million. They’ll likely choose to exceed that mark a bit, but they’re not going to go too crazy. Cashman also has to think about whether to re-sign Masahiro Tanaka and/or Jame Paxton, or find other help for the rotation too. It’s not just about the here and now either, as they also have to consider other foundational pieces that are set to become free agents over the next few years, like Aaron Judge (FA after 2022), Severino (after 2023), and rising salaries for others like Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit and more. They’re filthy rich, but they can’t keep everyone.
That gives the Blue Jays a unique opportunity if they want to sign one or more ex-Yankees. Other than the contracts for Hyun Jin Ryu and Randal Grichuk, the Blue Jays have next to no serious commitments over the next few years and can choose to finish building their roster in any number of ways, a luxury that Cashman and the Yankees don’t have in quite the same way, at least as long as they choose to act with fiscal responsibility.
That’s not to suggest that Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays should be reckless in pursuit of someone like LeMahieu, but they’re in a strong position to make him an enticing offer right now. I feel like it’s fairly widely known that he’s in favour of a return to the Big Apple, but a nine-figure contract to play with the up and coming Blue Jays would be a hell of a fallback plan.
Because they’re the Yankees, I’ll never count them out on any player they like until a contract is signed. That said, with the latest update about LeMahieu, the Yankees’ other needs and contract considerations, the state of things with the Covid-19 pandemic and what could be another difficult season in 2021, the Blue Jays should be in a much stronger position.
Now it’s just up to Atkins and his team to decide how far they’re willing to go to get the player they want.