One of the positions the Washington Nationals may consider upgrading this winter is second base. However, they should steer clear of DJ LeMahieu.
With the Washington Nationals looking to get back to the playoffs again in 2019, the front office could look to upgrade at second base. If they do, then they should avoid DJ LeMahieu, who would not be worth the contract it takes to get him.
Nats fans will remember LeMahieu most notably for winning the batting title back in 2016 over Daniel Murphy after he controversially sat out for the final two games. Now a free agent after parts of seven seasons in Colorado, he is hopeful of securing a big deal.
The second baseman certainly has plenty of things going for him, with a career slash line of .298/.350/.406 as well as 49 home runs, 349 RBIs and 75 stolen bases. He also has two All-Star appearances, two gold gloves, and that batting title from 2016 on his resume.
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By no means are those the stats of a superstar player, but on the face of it, they look above average in a few departments and could be an upgrade on the current crop for Nats keystone players. However, those stats are deceiving for one key reason, Coors Field.
The Coors narrative can sometimes be a lazy one. For example with Nolan Arenado, while it boosts his stats a bit, he would still be an elite third baseman wherever he called home. However, with LeMahieu’s batting profile, plus his drastic home and road splits, it’s definitely a concern for outside suitors.
In his career, DJ LeMahieu has hit .329 at Coors Field with a .834 OPS and 21 of his 49 career home runs have come in Colorado. These hefty stats are also propped up by a lofty .374 BABIP, which may be somewhat sustainable in Colorado, but elsewhere, it’s much less likely.
If you look at LeMahieu’s road stats from his seven years in Colorado, he has a slash line of .264/.312/.365 in road games, which hardly jumps off the page. If you compare that to the in-house options, Wilmer Difo has slashed .250/.310/.358 in his career, which includes a down 2018 while Howie Kendrick puts up a .288/.342/.410 slash in the last four seasons.
That’s hardly a huge upgrade on some kind of timeshare between Kendrick and Difo. But then in terms of cost for getting LeMahieu to sign a long-term deal, it becomes an even worse idea to try and sign him.
First off, the Rockies avoided arbitration with their second baseman when they agreed an $8.5 million deal for 2018. So already we’re looking at a deal north of that, and probably north of $10 million per year when he gets his multi-year deal this winter.
Then you can also look at someone with a relatively similar profile to LeMahieu in Ben Zobrist. The former Tampa Bay Ray signed with the Chicago Cubs for an average of $14 million per season back in 2016 and helped them win their first World Series in over 100 years that same season.
While Zobrist was probably a touch more valuable then than LeMahieu is now, with inflation, the free agent to be could probably match that $14 million average annual value. That seems way too much for the Nationals to be paying for a small upgrade in the grand scheme of things.
The final factor in all of this is that Carter Kieboom could be brought up to play second at some point in the 2019 season. He’s getting reps at the keystone in the Arizona Fall League and after a bit more time in the minors to start the year, he could be ready to play there full-time next summer. Therefore, it makes more sense to go with the stopgap options, rather than invest heavily in a free agent.
DJ LeMahieu will be one of the hardest players to gauge in the upcoming free agent market this winter. The Washington Nationals would be wise to stay away from the former Rockie and invest in other areas.