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DJ LeMahieu leads off the lineup of baseball’s best offseason moves


The dust is now settling from a free agent offseason that was consumed with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both of whom finally did get their money. Whether they were worth it won’t be known for at least five years.

What we are already seeing, however, is that hidden among all the hype and hullabaloo for Harper and Machado, there were some really smart much smaller signings that are having significant impact on their teams’ early performance — none more so than the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu.

Looking back now, it’s a wonder LeMahieu, after seven solid seasons (average .299 including one batting title and three Gold Gloves) in Colorado was still hanging around the market unsigned as late as January 14. Perhaps it was because he’d turned 30 and spent three short stints on the disabled list in ’18, but Brian Cashman was able to sign him for two years/$24 million in what is now looking as the bargain of the winter. Cashman, of course, could not have foreseen the mind-boggling spate of injuries the Yankees have incurred this season. It’s safe to say, though, without the versatile LeMahieu, who went into the weekend leading the team in hits (42) and doubles (10) and second in batting while filling in ably at second, third and even first, they would have taken a much bigger toll. “If you ask me, if they had a vote right now for American League MVP, LeMahieu would have to be in the conversation,” said a scout who has followed the Yankees. “He’s been that good and that important to them.” In particular, the scout said, besides his defense LeMahieu has provided the Yankees with something they sorely lacked last year — a guy who puts the ball in play, who will go to the opposite field and is one of the best two-strike hitters in the game.

DJ LeMahieu (Sarah Stier/Getty)

It would also seem LeMahieu’s move to the Yankees has had a negative effect on the Rockies, who’ve been mired near the bottom of the NL West and who rank 23rd in the majors in on-base pct.

Here are some other free agent signings that went largely unnoticed last winter but are now making their teams look smart:

No team had a more productive winter on the free agent market than the Twins, spending a total of $14.7 million on lefty starter Martin Perez (5-0, 2.83), second baseman Jonathan Schoop (.283/6HR/17RBI/.845 OPS) and closer Blake Parker (6 saves/1.54 ERA), all of whom have played a big part in Minnesota’s rise to the top of the AL Central. A pedestrian starter (43-49. 4.54) in seven seasons with Texas, Perez, who signed a one-year deal for $4 million, has emerged as a No. 1 in the early going for Twins GM Thad Levine (who signed him in Texas). He is now fully recovered from the elbow injury that plagued him last year. After a career year with the Orioles in ’17 (.293/32 HR/105 RBI) Schoop, declined dramatically in ’18 and wound up getting non-tendered by the Brewers, which is why the Twins were able to sign him for a rather modest one year/$7.5M. The 33-year-old Parker has bounced around with four teams, including the Yankees in ’16, but had a breakthrough year with the Angels in 2017, striking out 86 in 67 1/3 innings and converting seven of eight save opportunities after taking over as their closer in mid-August. He tailed off in 2018 and the Angels declined to offer him a contract and the Twins signed him for $3.2M, where he’s settled right in as their closer.

The Diamondbacks are also getting a big closer dividend from 33-year-old Greg Holland, who they signed to a one-year $3.5 million contract. He has so far reverted to his All-Star form with the Rockies and Royals (1.93 ERA/8 saves/18K in 14 IP).

We said it at the time and we’ll say it again: One of the absolute best signings of the winter was the Astros landing three-time All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley for two years/$32M. The lefthanded-hitting Brantley, whose 11% strikeout rate was the third lowest in the majors last year, fits perfectly into the righty-heavy Astros lineup and is off to a .338/9 HR/28 RBI/.979 OPS start. But it’s his clubhouse leadership that’s immeasurable — and it speaks volumes about the Indians and where they’re heading that they felt they couldn’t afford to bring him back.

Michael Brantley
Michael Brantley (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Pirates GM Neal Huntington is no doubt smarting over his trade of Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to the Rays last year for Chris Archer, but it may be somewhat assuaged by his signing of Jordan Lyles for one year/$2.05M. Huntington’s scouts were impressed by the changes Lyles made in his pitch selection as a bullpen operative for the Brewers last season and felt he was ready to move into a starter’s role. In his first six starts for the Pirates, Lyles has fashioned a 2.20 ERA and 1.163 WHIP.

On the flip side, even though the season is barely a month and a half along, there are already a few free agent signings gone hopelessly bad. The Nationals had hoped to solve their second base situation and their back end bullpen issues with the signings of Brian Dozier for $9 million and Trevor Rosenthal for $7 million, but so far both have been busts. Dozier’s hitting only .187 while Rosenthal had to be send back to the minors when he couldn’t get anybody out (36.00 ERA, 5.33 WHIP).

The White Sox signed Ervin Santana (for $4.3M) to bolster their starting rotation and Jon Jay (for $4M) to provide outfield depth and hopefully recruit his best friend, Machado, to the South Side. But Machado spurned the White Sox and Jay has been on the disabled list since spring training with a groin injury. As for Santana, he was cut loose last week after giving up 19 hits and 14 runs over 13 1/3 innings.

The Phillies have good reason to be concerned about their two-year/$23M investment in David Robertson. After failing in his first seven appearances (5.40 ERA), the ringleader of the Yankee players’ decision to stiff the team’s support people out of any postseason money went on the IL with an elbow issue. But the worst signing of all was unquestionably the Mets’ three-year/$30M deal for Jeurys Familia. We could never figure out what Brodie Van Wagenen was thinking on this deal. Familia had some truly awful outings with the A’s down the stretch last year and at times looked like there wasn’t a whole lot left there — and then he mercifully went on the IL last week with a shoulder injury, sporting a 6.28 ERA with 16 hits and 13 walks in 14.1 innings. Met fans can only hope they’ll be spared ever having to watch Familia come into a game and walk the first batter he faces again.


The emergence of brash rookie Chris Paddack (1.55 ERA for his first seven starts) as the new ace of the Padres — and notable teaser of Peter Alonso over the latter winning NL Rookie of the month — has served to remind of the Marlins’ miserable recent trade record. The Padres obtained Paddack, then a promising Low-A prospect, from the Marlins in 2016 (pre-Derek Jeter) for reliever Fernando Rodney. This now has a chance to go down as one of the worst trades in baseball history (right along with Jeter’s trade of Christian Yelich to the Brewers). Rodney was a total bust with a 5.89 ERA in 39 games for the Marlins in ’16, then moved on as a free agent after the season. ... Bravo to A’s manager Bob Melvin for leaving Mike Fiers in the game for 131 pitches to pitch the second no-hitter of his career last Tuesday, 2-0 against the Reds. After Fiers reached the 107-pitch limit in the seventh inning, Melvin warned him that one more baserunner was going to be it for him. But Fiers breezed through the final two innings to achieve his gem. “I’m grateful to (Melvin) for leaving me in and trusting me,” Fiers said. “I felt fine and everything was working.” A journeyman his whole career, with a 57-58 4.11 record lifetime record, Fiers is probably the least distinguished of the 27 pitchers in history to pitch multiple no-hitters. It’s a list that includes Bob Forsch, Don Wilson, Homer Bailey and Hideo Nomo as well as Nolan Ryan (7) and Sandy Koufax (4). ... We’ll say this for Dallas Keuchel. He’s not blaming anyone but himself for still being out there without a job. Last week Keuchel said he’s told his agent Scott Boras to say no to numerous offers because they weren’t what he considered “market value” for his services. “It’s about principal,” he said. So he undoubtedly will remain unemployed until after the June draft when the draft pick compensation attached to him for turning down the $17.9 million qualifying offer goes away. But even with their starting pitching shortage, don’t expect the Yankees to sign Keuchel. For one thing, they’re not going to be willing to pay what he considers his market value and, for another thing, they view him as a pitcher in decline more suited now for the National League. ... RIP longtime Phillies president Dave Montgomery who passed away last Wednesday after a long and courageous battle with cancer of the jaw. Montgomery was one of the great gentlemen of the game, one of the most influential and admired owners who made the Phillies a model baseball franchise. ... A sad commentary on the future of baseball was the Rangers’ resident “all or nothing” windmill Joey Gallo last Wednesday becoming the first player in major league history to hit 100 homers before he got 100 singles (93). It is worth noting, upon achieving this “feat”, Gallo had 523 career strikeouts to 248 hits. ... Remember Pablo Sandoval? We haven’t heard a whole lot from the big panda since his salad (and more) days with the Giants’ 2010-12-14 championships teams. But last Monday he did something truly remarkable, becoming the first player since Giants Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson in 1905 to hit a home run, steal a base and pitch a scoreless inning all in one game. Sandoval accomplished his feat against the Reds. When he was summoned to pitch in the eighth inning, he hit the Reds’ Jose Peraza with a pitch, marking the fifth time in the game a Reds’ player had been hit by a pitch. That, too, tied a National League record.