It’s Game 6 of the ALCS. Top of the ninth inning and the New York Yankees are down 4-2 to the Houston Astros in Houston. Runner on first base with one out. With a full count, on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, DJ LeMahieu hits a game-tying home run just over the outstretched glove of George Springer in right field. Fans had seen it all year. Still, it was at that moment, watching LeMahieu round the bases, every Rockies fan knew: letting him go was the biggest mistake the team made.
LeMahieu signed with the Yankees this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, signing to basically be a utility guy that was stuck behind an extremely talented infield. He quickly became an everyday player after the team suffered a rash of significant injuries all over the roster. He then played well enough in that time to keep an everyday job when they all came back.
The Rockies didn’t make an offer for retaining their star second baseman. Instead, they opted to sign infielder Daniel Murphy. At the time, the belief was that Murphy would be an offensive upgrade over LeMahieu. LeMahieu finished the season better in every major statistical batting category except slugging.
What LeMahieu provided the Rockies that Murphy didn’t is consistency on offense. Hitting to the opposite field is seemingly a lost art in today’s league, but LeMahieu excels at it. It doesn’t matter where he’s put in the lineup or what situation he’s in, he always seems to find a way on base or to have a productive at-bat.
This year’s Rockies team sorely missed productive at-bats and clutch hitting. Two things that DJ LeMahieu brought every single night, as exemplified by his clutch game-tying home run in the ALCS.
The Rockies have a dangerous lineup overall. They missed his offense, but his defense was the most significant loss for the team. Ever since former first baseman Todd Helton retired, the Rockies have been missing a long-term plan at first base. They’ve tried bringing in veterans like Mark Reynolds. They added Daniel Murphy and Yonder Alonso this season to play first base. Older veteran players, but no one could be a long-term answer. Lemahieu always played second base in Colorado and was one of the best in the league, earning three Gold Gloves there.
What’s crazy is that with the Yankees, he’s playing first base. Same dominant and consistent glove. You know which team needs a first baseman right now? The Rockies. He’s also younger than Daniel Murphy and still in his prime. It’s crazy to think the team never thought to try Lemahieu at first.
They could have even used him at second base this year. Losing DJ at second left another hole on the right side that didn’t have a successor ready to fill his spot. The future second baseman Brendan Rodgers needed another year and was brought up prematurely and ended up having his season cut short with a shoulder injury. The platoon of Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon wasn’t bad, but they just weren’t Lemahieu. McMahon played well at second base and did eventually beat out Hampson for the everyday role at second.
McMahon is interesting because he is an excellent defensive infielder at all four positions. He’s a natural third baseman that plays really well at both second and first base. He profiles better as a first baseman given his height at 6’2” which leaves a hole at second.
Here’s the bottom line, LeMahieu only signed with the Yankees for an average annual value (AAV) of $12 million. The Rockies signed Murphy for the same AAV. In other words, Lemahieu was not out of the team’s price range. Given they were a year away with Brendan Rodgers, they only needed Lemahieu for a year until their players in the minors were ready.
An offense that averaged over 9 strikeouts per game and over 10 per game on the road desperately needed a consistent bat that took good at-bats almost single time. A defense that needed consistency on the right side of the infield in terms of play and people.
Watching him play and even put into some MVP conversations for a time this year hurt. All the Yankees fans calling Rockies fans dumb for letting him go and not seeing him as the star that he is. The Rockies fans and media knew what he was capable of. They all knew letting him go was a mistake. They don’t make the personnel decisions. With how this season played out, there’s little doubt that DJ LeMahieu could have and would have been a total difference-maker for the 2019 Rockies in a season that went so wrong so fast.
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