DJ LeMahieu’s desire to stay in NYC makes it Yankees vs. Mets

Did the Yankees do too good a job of selling DJ LeMahieu not only on them, but also on New York City?

Could Steve Cohen pull the same, “Thanks for proving yourself elsewhere, we’ll take it from here” move that the Yankees have deployed countless times on big free agents?

The most likely scenario remains that The Machine, currently a free agent, re-ups with the Yankees, with whom he enjoyed so much success in 2019 and 2020 that he has proclaimed his desire to stay. Nevertheless, the 32-year-old prefers to remain in the New York area so definitively, an industry source said, that the Mets rank second on his list.

The Mets’ level of interest in LeMahieu remains unclear, though they gained $20.25 million in 2021 payroll flexibility Wednesday with the news that ex-Yankee Robinson Cano tested positive for Stanozolol and will be suspended for all of next season. Cohen, who just completed his purchase of the Mets from the Wilpons earlier this month, tweeted on Wednesday that the newfound money would be used “on players.” The man is a social-media genius.

The Blue Jays also are in on LeMahieu, though they find themselves at a geographical disadvantage.

The Yankees and LeMahieu haven’t advanced very far in their discussions to date, multiple sources said. LeMahieu turned down the Yankees’ qualifying offer, which would have paid him $18.9 million for one year, and he is due a large raise from the two-year, $24 million pact he signed with the Yankees in January 2019.

The obvious, if imperfect, comparable is third baseman Josh Donaldson, who signed a four-year, $92 million contract with the Twins in January. Donaldson was entering his age-34 season, while LeMahieu will be an age-32 player next year; on the flip side, Donaldson had compiled a stronger track record than LeMahieu. The novel coronavirus, however, limited Major League Baseball to 60 regular-season games without paying fans this past campaign and threatens next season’s revenues. Hence the Yankees’ methodical approach to re-signing LeMahieu. The slow-play is in vogue throughout the industry.

Cohen, who didn’t suffer significant losses from baseball last year as a mere minority owner of the Mets (and who instantly became the game’s richest owner), could afford to offer a Donaldson-type deal to LeMahieu. Nevertheless, he vowed at his introductory news conference last week that he wouldn’t spend like a “drunken sailor,” and the Mets’ offseason talks to date have focused on upgrading at catcher, center field and their starting rotation. The absence of the second baseman-designated hitter Cano actually clears up a roster logjam, whereby the Mets could (if they want) move Jeff McNeil to second base, free up left field for Brandon Nimmo if he gets replaced by a free agent (most likely George Springer or Jackie Bradley Jr.), make Dom Smith the full-time first baseman and Pete Alonso the full-time designated hitter, as long as the National League brings back the DH.

Furthermore, Cano will return to the Mets’ roster and payroll in 2022 (unless he fails a third drug test), and the Mets will owe him $20.25 million in both 2022 and 2023, with the Mariners picking up the remaining $3.75 million each year. So if Cohen honors his words about spending with some level of discipline, he might not be inclined to capitalize on found money for one year with a multi-year commitment.

The Yankees face action items beyond retaining LeMahieu. They lost three starting pitchers (J.A. Happ, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka), as well as outfielder Brett Gardner, to free agency. They also must decide whether to keep Gleyber Torres at shortstop and Gary Sanchez at catcher.

Their top objective, though, still is to bring back LeMahieu, and really, if that effort falls short, wouldn’t they rather see LeMahieu on the Mets than in their own division with the Blue Jays? The Yankees surely don’t want to contemplate such a dilemma. If the Mets start considering LeMahieu more seriously, then the Yankees might have to pay their best player of the past two years more than they had hoped in order to avoid such a contemplation.

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