DJ LeMahieu isn’t the most conventional marquee free agent. He's 32 years old, and his best two seasons were his two most recent. His track record before turning 30 is limited. He's topped 15 homers just once in his career, and he's spent his entire career playing home games at Coors Field and Yankee Stadium.
Despite these concerns, there's no denying his value. He's won two batting titles in the last five seasons and is a three-time Gold Glove winner at second base who also plays first and third.
Let's break down the five most likely landing spots for LeMahieu:
New York Yankees
The Yankees have signaled they’ll make LeMahieu a priority this offseason, and it’s not hard to see why. He finished third in the American League MVP vote in 2020 and fourth the year before. He the majors in batting average (.364) and the AL in on-base percentage (.421) and OPS (1.011). LeMahieu has emerged as the Yankees’ most reliable hitter. His ability to make consistent contact and spray the ball to all fields is more valuable to the Yankees because of their boom-or-bust lineup.
LeMahieu has indicated he wants to return to the Yankees. So what's stopping this reunion? LeMahieu reportedly is seeking a five-year, $100 million deal, and the Yankees are hesitant to give that many years to a player in his 30s. There are also questions about Gleyber Torres's defense at shortstop. They could instead look to add a shortstop and move Torres back to second base, where he spent his first two big-league seasons.
As currently constituted, retaining LeMahieu is their most prudent move. Bringing back their infield from last season and improving their starting rotation could be enough to vault the Yankees to the World Series in 2021.
Toronto Blue Jays
LeMahieu to the Yankees isn’t exactly a fait accompli, and a fellow AL East team is the other most sensible option. Toronto appears to be casting a wide net at this point, and the Blue Jays could very well be in the hunt for George Springer, Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto in the coming months. LeMahieu would represent a similar upgrade. He’d be a reliable force for a lineup that tallied the seventh most strikeouts in baseball last year, and he brings positional versatility, as well. The young trio of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio provides plenty of promise, but this team still feels a couple pieces short of contending for the AL East crown. Adding LeMahieu would be a major step toward Toronto’s first division title since 2015.
Washington declined to shell out over $200 for a marquee third baseman last winter after Anthony Rendon left for the Angels, but the Nationals could be in the market for a major addition this offseason. The 2019 World Series champions failed to get sufficient infield production aside from shortstop Trea Turner last year, and third baseman Carter Kieboom struggled mightily with a .556 OPS. Juan Soto was the best hitter in baseball last year, but this lineup needs more than just he and Turner. The Nats could look to the trade market, and third basemen Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant would be great fits, though both could be free agents next offseason. Instead, signing LeMahieu would provide them stability in the infield over the next 3-5 seasons. His positional flexibility would allow the Nationals to keep Kieboom, their top prospect entering last season, as their starting third baseman.
New York Mets
The Mets appear to be interested in, well, virtually every marquee free agent since Steve Cohen became their owner. New York is the early favorite to sign George Springer. Catcher J.T. Realmuto could also fetch nine figures from the Mets, though it looks like they're more interested in adding James McCann as a cheaper alternative. Adding Trevor Bauer to the rotation behind Jacob deGrom is also quite enticing for the Mets. Depending on just how open Cohen’s wallet is, adding LeMahieu would be a wise cherry on top to a winter spending spree.
LeMahieu could fill third base immediately in place of J.D. Davis, and he could additionally spend time at second because of Robinson Canó’s season-long suspension. If the Mets don't land Springer, a pivot to LeMahieu makes sense.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers enter 2021 as the World Series favorite, and they could be better than their title squad in 2020. Their infusion of young talent has led to one of the deepest rotations in baseball, anchored by veteran Clayton Kershaw. Their lineup, with Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager, could be even better than their pitching. After winning their first World Series since 1988, the Dodgers have the makings of a dynasty.
Los Angeles could certainly opt to maintain stability entering 2021. Justin Turner is their most notable free agent (along with Joc Pederson), and retaining the veteran third baseman is unlikely to come at a hefty price tag. If the Dodgers don't re-sign Turner, they could be interested in trading for either Bryant or Arenado. Or, they could trade for Francisco Lindor and move Seager to third base. Seager, along with Lindor, hits free agency as part of next offseason's loaded shortstop class. Los Angeles might instead try and work out a deal with Seager this offseason before he hits the open market next winter.
The Dodgers likely need a dampened market to acquire LeMahieu, though if his value falls below $20 million per year, perhaps he’d come under some consideration. His likely slot in at third base in place of Turner, and on certain days he could spell Gavin Lux at second. His versatility would be a great fit, especially if they don't re-sign free-agent utility man Kiké Hernández. The Dodgers are already the World Series favorite. Adding LeMahieu would give them an even better shot at becoming the first back-to-back champion since the '98-'00 Yankees and establishing themselves as baseball's next dynasty.