In a winter fraught with unsteady economics and politics, along with the perils of a chronically undershot pandemic, DJ LeMahieu’s baseball free agency hasn’t looked different than most.
Nearing the middle of January, he remains a free agent, same as a large majority of the top free agents. This, perhaps, reflects lost revenue from last summer, the fear of similar conditions ahead and, as some players suspect, an opportunity for club owners to artificially tamp salaries for the coming years.
It leaves J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, Trevor Bauer, Marcus Semien, Marcell Ozuna and LeMahieu, among dozens of others, unsigned and unsure when they will be signed, along with a couple dozen imperfect baseball teams that so far seem OK with that.
Five weeks from scheduled spring training report dates, players, coaches and managers are operating under the soft assumption camps will open on time, but suspect plans could change. The factors: COVID-19 numbers are bad, vaccine distribution has been clunky and a change in national leadership will lead to new — broader and stricter — policies and responses. In early December, the league asked the players union if it would consider agreeing to delay the season by a month or so, given the surge in cases and a vaccine in sight. Union leaders reiterated their expectation players would receive their full salaries. The topic apparently has not arisen since.
All of which — along with the possibility of another season (or partial season) played in empty ballparks and the resulting economic consequences to team owners — has led, it seems, to a mostly inert 2½ months since pending free agents became actual free agents.
A two-time batting champ and the New York Yankees’ best player for two seasons running, LeMahieu, according to a source close to his family, has become dismayed by the slow-play tactics of the Yankees, along with other clubs. Teams that have engaged with the LeMahieu camp say LeMahieu expects more than Josh Donaldson’s four-year, $92 million deal with the Minnesota Twins and at least on par with J.D. Martinez’s five years and $110 million with the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees, LeMahieu’s preferred club after two successful seasons in the Bronx, have not met those terms.
The 32-year-old LeMahieu has, therefore, asked his representatives to re-engage with teams that have previously shown the most interest, the source said, among them the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets, and to reconnect with teams that reached out early in the free agent period, including the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and others.
LeMahieu expects to meet virtually with several teams this week, according to the source, that are seeking to fill holes at second or third base.
He is not alone in his temporary unemployment or in his disappointment in an industry that has responded unenthusiastically to a player who finished in the top four of MVP balloting the past two seasons, that plays three positions, that hit .336 as a Yankee and .306 in those two postseasons. It’s also not too late for the market to turn, unlikely as that now seems.
In the meantime, he waits. They all wait.
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