Mailbag: DJ LeMahieu’s role, Aaron Boone’s culpability, Ketel Marte at shortstop

When the World Series features the Astros and Braves.

Good morning everyone after another weekend gone by far too quickly. Since Friday, Houston (ugh) eliminated Boston (yay) and Atlanta (ugh) knocked out the Dodgers (yay). Both championship series featured some of the most insufferable teams, didn’t they? So naturally, that results in an insufferable World Series which starts tomorrow in Houston.

Today is mailbag day. We’re going to run these on Mondays rather than Fridays going forward, just so you all know. As a reminder, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll pick our favorites for the next edition. Here’s what we have this week:

Sam asks: I’ve seen one prominent Yankees beat writer suggest that a likely Yankees infield for next season would be Gio at third, NEW GUY at shortstop, Gleyber at second and DJLM at 1B. I guess DJ would be a solid glove at first but doesn’t it make more sense to acquire a (lefty) first baseman with some power? What should DJ’s role with the Yankees be going forward? After this past season, I’m thinking they should try his originally-planned role: rotating infield guy. 

Yes, the Yankees absolutely should add a left-handed first baseman this offseason, particularly given who is available. They can re-sign Anthony Rizzo or get the top first base free agent: Freddie Freeman. You can’t go wrong either way, though Freeman is definitively a better hitter than Rizzo now. Both are good defenders. Matt Olson is another name that likely will come up too, though I prefer the Yankees to spend money than trade prospects.

With those names available, the Yankees shouldn’t consider LeMahieu as the 2022 first baseman for even one second. I’m not so sure LeMahieu is a good defender at first base, anyway. He’s been a tick above average there per OAA, but it’s not his natural position. And after watching (and getting spoiled) by Rizzo defensively over the second half, I want that level of defense at the position going forward. Rizzo, Freeman, or Olson can offer that. Plus, if LeMahieu’s bat is going to be closer to league-average going forward, it’s far less useful at a position like first base, which is more offense-centric.

Now, as for LeMahieu’s ideal role. I wrote extensively about LeMahieu’s season last week, and even though there are some bad indicators within, he’s still an everyday player in my eyes. I expect some positive regression in 2022 and still prefer him to Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela. That’s not to say LeMahieu wouldn’t be a great fit as a roving infielder playing four or five times a week, but if the infield group is LeMahieu, Urshela, Torres, a new shortstop, and Rizzo/new first baseman, I still think LeMahieu’s best role is as an everyday player.

Jesse asks: Am I wrong in thinking that the fanbase has been blaming Aaron Boone too much? He gets blamed for players’ underperformance, but he never seems to get credit for the many players who have played the best baseball of their lives under him (DJLM, Urshela, Voit, Luetge, Peralta, Holmes, Cortes, etc.) That seems unfair. I think our main cause for anger is payroll being essentially flat for 15 years.

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Before I answer this, read Bobby’s thoughts from last week in reaction to Boone’s return. I think Bobby provided a measured and reasonable evaluation of Boone’s strengths and weaknesses as the skipper.

I don’t think the dissatisfaction with Boone is mainly based on players falling short of expectations. It’s part of it, sure. But as Bobby illustrated, the team’s sloppy play and lack of urgency that reflects even more poorly on him. The way the team handles the fundamentals of the game? Or how Boone manages pivotal games? Those are completely fair criticisms, and I think in many folks’ eyes should have disqualified him from returning to the team in 2022. Alas.

There’s only so much a manager can do about players regressing. The players, to some extent, are responsible for their own development along with the coaching staff (and the organization is overhauling the major league staff already). To cherry pick an example: Boone isn’t blameworthy for Torres falling off a cliff. It’s not his fault the organization thrusted him into shortstop, even though it’s been clear he can’t hack it there defensively. Boone isn’t swinging the bat for Gleyber, either.

On the flip side, this also means that Boone isn’t really deserving of (all of the) credit for guys who dramatically improved. A lot of that is thanks to the front office identifying under the radar players and/or the organization’s player development staff.

Ultimately, I do agree with Jesse’s notion that a stagnant payroll is the biggest driver of frustration. Matt touched on this yesterday. The buck stops with Hal Steinbrenner, and frankly, he’s completely bungled this core over the past four or five years. Cutting payroll by tens of millions of dollars in multiple seasons during a contention window? Yeah yeah, he signed Gerrit Cole and traded for Giancarlo Stanton, but two moves don’t absolve Hal from everything else.

WF asks: Do you think Ketel Marte can still play a good shortstop? 

My instant reaction to this question was no. Marte didn’t play any shortstop this season and hasn’t extensively played there since 2017. Arizona has mainly penciled him in center field, though he has played a significant amount of second base. Based on usage alone, it seems like the Diamondbacks prefer him not to play short.

That said, Arizona has Nick Ahmed, who is one of the best (if not the best) defensive shortstop in the majors. He leads the majors in OAA at shortstop since 2018 (+78, three more than Francisco Lindor). So perhaps it’s more that Marte is just the odd man out at short, and on another team, he might be a regular. Let’s find out.

Marte’s Statcast metrics were pretty good at shortstop, just not otherworldly good like Ahmed’s. After posting -4 OAA at short in with Seattle in 2016, Marte recorded +2 and +6 in 2017 and 2018 with Arizona, respectively. The ’18 number is a smaller sample size (28 games at SS), though. So from that alone, and assuming no significant degradation in ability since then, shortstop does look feasible.

All this said, it’s not fair to make a determination based on OAA alone. It’s useful and should correlate well to his ability to play the position, but it definitely needs eye-test confirmation. And for that, let’s go back to some of Marte’s scouting reports during his prospect days with Seattle.

When Marte was still a prospect, Kiley McDaniel noted that “shortstop isn’t a sure thing” and that his arm strength could be an issue. Baseball Prospectus noted the same arm strength concern.

Obviously, arm strength is vital to play shortstop, so maybe it’s no wonder that Arizona moved him off the position. Yes, an elite defender like Ahmed factors in to the equation, but unless Marte’s arm has strengthened over the years, he probably shouldn’t be a shortstop. His athleticism likely helped him still perform well there early in his career, but that’s not going to last forever, even if he’s still just 28 years-old.

Ultimately, while Marte probably can handle the position passably, he’s not a solution for the Yankees. There are too many better shortstops available this winter to instead convert Marte back to his original position. Now, if we’re talking about acquiring Marte to play center, that’s another story.

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6 Comments

  1. chip56

    “But as Bobby illustrated, the team’s sloppy play and lack of urgency that reflects even more poorly on him. The way the team handles the fundamentals of the game? Or how Boone manages pivotal games? Those are completely fair criticisms, and I think in many folks’ eyes should have disqualified him from returning to the team in 2022. ”

    Yes, and…

    Boone was hired for this. He was hired to be the laid back guy who the players liked as opposed to Joe Girardi who would actually bench a player who was underperforming and not putting in the work necessary to get better.

    As I said in response to Bobby’s eloquent post: Aaron Boone stays because Brian Cashman was not capable of finding another manager who could finesse the media, keep the players happy, and had so little dignity that he didn’t mind if the front office took away anything that even resembled authority over the team.

  2. dasit

    i would rather they sign freeman for 6 years than seager for 10

  3. Charles W Bellavia

    Go for Correa, keep Rizzo, dump Gallo, hope Hicks stays healthy, get another left power bat for left field, give Sanchez one more year so minors can improve, lose Gardner, lose Frazier, trade Voit and hope rotation stays healthy. Keep Kluber and consider trading Chapman, we have others that could close.

  4. MikeD

    LeMahieu’s weakest defensive position appears to be 1B, although I strongly suspect if he played it regularly he’d become a plus defender. I don’t want to see him become a full-time 1B’man because his bat won’t play unless he fully bounces back to 2019-2020 levels. I am expecting some bounce back, but not to that degree.

    The biggest issue here is Gleyber, who is not even vaguely in DJLM’s class defensively at 2B, so the Yankees will be making a decision to be weaker at 2B, and they might be making a decision to be weaker both offensively and defensively at 1B if they move DJ there.

    My guess is as I noted yesterday. The Yankees will play DJLM regularly, but rotationally. They could even acquire a solid lefty bat for 1B who DJ will platoon with. My predictions:

    1)Gleyber will be traded
    2) Seager will be signed
    3) The Yankees will sign/trade for a lefty-swinging CFer and 1B’man who will be platooned with DJLM and Hicks serving as the high-rotation position players.

  5. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    What’s wrong with the Braves, Derek? They have an exciting young club that can actually hit. They remind me a lot of the late 90’s Yankees. They can hit for average and power and have the pitching for October baseball. And an old steady manager at the helm. They’re what the Yankees used to be and I hope they beat the cheating Astros. I always felt bad for the Braves for having such good teams in the 90’s and only winning 1 WS, running into the Yankees twice. And I love their tomahawk chop. Dad and I do it in our living room along with the crowd. Now on to this week’s questions.

    Sam asks: I’ve seen one prominent Yankees beat writer suggest that a likely Yankees infield for next season would be Gio at third, NEW GUY at shortstop, Gleyber at second and DJLM at 1B. I guess DJ would be a solid glove at first but doesn’t it make more sense to acquire a (lefty) first baseman with some power? What should DJ’s role with the Yankees be going forward? After this past season, I’m thinking they should try his originally-planned role: rotating infield guy.

    It does make sense to acquire a left handed 1B, Sam. Re-signing Rizzo would be the smartest move so that won’t happen. Freddie Freeman would be a wet dream but Hal will never spend that kind of money and I don’t think Atlanta will let him go. He’s their Aaron Judge, the face of their franchise. So I think the most likely scenario is a lesser 1st baseman who is too old and can’t hit or play defense is signed to the veteran minimum. I hear Jay Bruce is looking for work since he quit his dishwashing job in protest of the vaccine mandate. DJ was not a good signing and will be an albatross around our necks for the next 6 years.

    Jesse asks: Am I wrong in thinking that the fanbase has been blaming Aaron Boone too much? He gets blamed for players’ underperformance, but he never seems to get credit for the many players who have played the best baseball of their lives under him (DJLM, Urshela, Voit, Luetge, Peralta, Holmes, Cortes, etc.) That seems unfair. I think our main cause for anger is payroll being essentially flat for 15 years.

    You’ve never been more wrong that now, Jesse. Boone deserves all the blame for players underperformance. What season did you watch? DJ was horrible this year., Urshela was ok but always injured, Voit can’t stay healthy and had a horrible year. The rest are pitchers brought in from other organizations and I give credit for them to Matt Blake. Boone doesn’t know anything about pitching. Blake turned them around and I woulda been happier had they made him manager. The manager cannot be credited for development of pitchers when he has nothing to do with it. But he can be blamed for continuing to go to Andrew Heaney time after time after he knew what would happen. Yes payroll has been flat and Hal is to blame for being a coupon cutting penny pincher, Cash is to blame for acquiring these bad players but Boone does nothing to make these players better as opposed to Girardi who did and Torre who did and Dusty Baker who does and Alex Cora who does and Brian Snitker who does. We’ve done nothing but go backwards under Boone and just resigned ourselves to another 3 years of mediocrity.

    WF asks: Do you think Ketel Marte can still play a good shortstop?

    No I don’t, WF, and neither can Gleyber Torres. Goodbye.

    • sevrox

      I have a mancrush on Eddard. I remember reading his stuff on older, now defunct, Yank blogs where he was ripped to shreds but, undeterred, he comes back swinging. Good stuff, E! Keep it up! Bleepin’ hilarious.

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