In addition to improving their starting pitching depth, one of the holes the Red Sox need to address this offseason is at second base.
Boston is coming off a 2020 season in which its second basemen posted an American League-worst OPS of .586 and American League-worst wRC+ of 55.
The club was aggressive in their pursuit of coveted Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim to fill that hole at second base, but the 25-year-old inked a four-year, $28 million deal with the Padres in late December.
With Kim off the market, the Sox may very well turn to another highly-touted free agent second baseman in three-time All-Star D.J. LeMahieu.
LeMahieu, according to Yahoo Sports‘ Tim Brown, “has become dismayed by the slow-play tactics of the Yankees, along with other clubs.”
The 32-year-old out of Louisiana State University is coming off another successful season with the Bronx Bombers in which he slashed .364/.421/.590 with 10 home runs, 10 doubles, and 27 RBI over 50 games (216 plate appearances) in 2020.
Emerging as perhaps one of the best infielders in baseball in his time with New York, LeMahieu is reportedly seeking a new contract this winter that exceeds “Josh Donaldson’s four-year, $92 million deal with the Minnesota Twins and [is] 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,” Brown writes.
Given his frustrations, LeMahieu has asked “his representatives to re-engage with teams that have previously shown the most interest…and to reconnect with teams that reached out early in the free agent period.”
The Red Sox are one of the teams that reportedly reached out to the two-time batting champ early on in the free agent period, likely in late October or early November.
They could also be one of the teams planning to meet virtually with LeMahieu at some point this week, according to Brown, seeing how they are “seeking to fill holes at second or third base.”
One caveat that comes with pursuing LeMahieu is the fact that he has a $18.9 million qualifying offer attached to him, meaning the Red Sox — or any club besides the Yankees — would have to forfeit a 2021 second-draft pick as well as $500,000 in international signing bonus pool money in order to sign him.
Back in November, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom stated that he would not shy away from certain free-agents with QOs attached to them as long as they fit a team need.
“I think it’s our responsibility to engage on everybody that could fit us,” Bloom said via a Zoom call. “Obviously when you’re talking about somebody that has a qualifying offer on them, the cost to us in signing them is greater and you have to factor that in on some level. But I don’t like ruling us out on anybody.”
While not ruling the likes of LeMahieu out then, Bloom also emphasized the significance second-round picks can have for an organization, citing Jon Lester (2002) and Dustin Pedroia (2004) as prime examples in the Sox’ case when speaking with reporters last month.
“All draft picks are calculated risks to some extent,” Bloom said. “There’s no guarantees with any of them. You can look at 2002 and 2004 just to see how valuable a second round pick can be in this organization. It’s really valuable. You saw this past year in the draft, we didn’t have one. And as a result we had to navigate the draft differently than we might have if we had our pick in that round. So it matters. It obviously has value. It gives you a very good shot at an impactful player. And so you just have to factor that in. It’s not an absolute one way or the other. But you can’t be blind to the value that you’re giving up in
In addition to the constraints — both financial and developmental — bringing in LeMahieu would create, the right-handed hitter’s swing may not even play that well at Fenway Park in comparison to how it plays at Yankee Stadium.
That being the case because, as The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier noted in December, LeMahieu’s “batted-ball profile — a right-handed hitter who drills liners to the opposite field — represents an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium but a poor one for Fenway.”
In 14 career games and 65 career plate appearances inside Fenway Park, LeMahieu has posted a .516 OPS, which pales in comparison to his lifetime OPS of 1.042 at Yankee Stadium.
With those numbers in mind, LeMahieu could very well be attempting to use the Red Sox as leverage in this scenario, and the Red Sox, upon getting in touch with the veteran infielder’s reps in the fall, may have just been doing their due diligence, as noted by MLB Trade Rumors’ Mark Polishuk.
Still, it is somewhat fascinating to see that Boston could be in play for a premier free-agent like LeMahieu at this stage in the offseason, though I don’t really see the two sides coming to terms on a long-term contract that lines up with what the 32-year-old is looking for anytime soon.
(Photo of D.J. LeMahieu: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)