How’s this gonna work?
Back in January, many Yankees fans fumed about the idea of DJ LeMahieu ever being in their team’s lineup. Now, with Didi Gregorius set to rejoin the team Friday in Cleveland, having neared completion of the rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, concern exists over LeMahieu starting too many games on the bench.
Aaron Boone, speaking Sunday before the Yankees closed their series with the Red Sox, shrugged off his incoming wealth of options. “I honestly don’t think it’s going to be much of an issue,” he said at Yankee Stadium, “and that’s still ahead of us.”
It can be done, naturally — and, as always, let’s include the proviso that future misfortune could render this discussion moot. It’ll require some thought, planning and ego massaging, though.
So let’s roll up our sleeves and talk through how the Yankees should best utilize their surplus of everyday talent.
It starts with the premise that LeMahieu transforms into the rover role that the Yankees originally envisioned for him and pitched to him as a free agent. Sunday night marked the 30-year-old’s 37th start at second base, his most familiar position, followed by 14 starts at third base and one at first base.
With Gregorius’ return shifting Gleyber Torres from shortstop to second base, and with Gio Urshela shining at the hot corner, LeMahieu’s work schedule figures to feature far more starts at first than he has registered to date.
However, Boone said he wants to ease Gregorius back into action. “With Didi initially, it’s going to be two out of three [starts],” the Yankees manager said, “three out of four.”Boone concluded: “It’s kind of giving a guy a day [off] every five, six, seven, eight days, and keeping everyone fresh and playing.”
OK, let’s say the average week features six games. Stipulating that lineups will be determined by the opposing pitcher and players’ respective health situations, among myriad other factors, let’s lay out a template that can be accordingly tweaked.
- Game 1: Luke Voit 1B, Torres 2B, Gregorius SS, Urshela 3B.
- Game 2: Voit 1B, Torres 2B, Gregorius SS, LeMahieu 3B.
- Game 3: Voit 1B, LeMahieu 2B, Torres SS, Urshela 3B.
- Game 4: Voit 1B, LeMahieu 2B, Gregorius SS, Urshela 3B.
- Game 5: LeMahieu 1B, Torres 2B, Gregorius SS, Urshela 3B.
- Game 6: LeMahieu 1B, Torres 2B, Gregorius SS, Urshela 3B, Voit DH.
The identity of the designated hitter in the first five games is immaterial for the purpose of this proposal. This places everyone in the starting lineup five days and rests him on the sixth day, an ideal distribution.
Torres has proven that he can pivot easily between the two middle-infield positions, and LeMahieu has lived up to his low-maintenance profile while providing more value to the Yankees than Manny Machado has to the Padres. If not for the emergence of Urshela, then Gregorius’ return would make LeMahieu the full-time third baseman; the Yankees are perfectly pleased over this unexpected development. Voit’s strong sophomore season in pinstripes has dispelled concerns of him being a one-year wonder, and his bat is so strong (and his glove not as good as LeMahieu) that he easily merits some reps at DH.
And then there’s Gregorius, who plans to return on the early side of his projected window and, as long as he’s like his old self, provide some lefty pop that these Yankees largely have lacked — not that it has particularly hurt them — as well as strong defense and clubhouse leadership and energy.
This looks like a viable game plan as long as it lasts, which history tells us probably will be short; the next injury never looms far away in baseball. Then it’s on the Yankees to figure out which game to rest which guy. Gotta leave them some work to do themselves, right?